Viral videos showed police swarming a Brooklyn barbecue on Thursday and hitting people with batons in a confrontation that partygoers said is the latest example of the NYPD being overly aggressive because of ongoing tensions over protests.
Husan Blue, a 30-year-old who attended the party, was left with swollen and bruised hands, his wrists covered in marks from the zip ties used to arrest him.
“They came with intentions to basically fuck us up,” he told BuzzFeed News. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey guys, it’s past curfew, time to wrap it up.’ They came batons out, helmets on, ready for war."
BuzzFeed News spoke with two Black men arrested at the barbecue and another who was arrested nearby just after they'd been released following 24 hours in police custody.
Blue said the gathering on Eastern Parkway was to celebrate the birthday of his father, Greg Blue, who turned 57 on Tuesday. Around 30 to 50 people attended, playing dominoes and laughing in the courtyard of the apartment building where his family has lived for over 40 years, he said.
Then dozens of police cars turned up around midnight to shut it down.
"There wasn’t nothing going wrong," Greg Blue told BuzzFeed News. "The only thing was that it was past curfew time. "
Over the last week, New York City has had an 8 p.m. curfew, but it did not apply to private property.
But at the Thursday barbecue, attendees said officers arrived looking for a fight. Husan Blue said a police officer pushed his mother to the floor, and he tried to intervene. His father also confirmed his wife had been pushed by police.
Blue had undergone arthroscopic surgery for his right shoulder the previous Sunday, the stitches still visible in his arm, and he could barely move it after his arrest.
"When they were attacking my mother," said Blue, "I got in between them. And next thing I know, my arm is behind my back, I’m slammed to the floor, and the same arm that I’m trying to hold up now, they slammed me on it."
Video from the scene shows him lying on his right shoulder. He said police locked the zip ties so tightly, his hands were turning red.
After his first conversation with BuzzFeed News, Blue sent photos of his arm wrapped in a cast on Saturday, saying doctors told him it had been severely sprained. An X-ray couldn't determine for certain that it hadn't been broken, and doctors wanted him to get an MRI, he said.
Another friend, Samuel Gifford, 30, was also violently arrested at the barbecue and showed BuzzFeed News the swelling of his fingers and bruises from his arrest. "They are also doing that to you in front of your mothers, your babies, your aunties," he said.
"I understand the police are going through a lot,” Greg Blue told BuzzFeed News. “But you can’t just come out throwing authority when people are just trying to express their opinions. ... They want the same respect that we want. Once you give, you get it.”
A neighbor also complained about the police response, noting in a letter to the mayor's office she posted on Twitter that she heard explosions, witnessed violence, and counted 20 NYPD vehicles responding to what had been a low-key event.
“I now live in a war zone,” wrote Jessica K. “That’s clear. And as I lay awake nearing 1AM last night, with sounds of the conflict lingering out my windows, for the first time ever I thought, maybe I’ll leave the city. I’m committed to this place but my tax dollars are propping up a violent system of policing that is now directly affecting me and my mental health. Imagine how much worse this atmosphere of oppression is for my neighbors of color.”
During the recent protests against police brutality, Eastern Parkway has become one of the main thoroughfares for marches through Brooklyn. Shortly before police arrived at the birthday party on Thursday, protesters had once again marched by.
Husan Blue and Gifford spent the night in a crammed police cell with a childhood friend of theirs, Devon Huntley, 36, who had been arrested just a few blocks away. He was nursing a swollen black eye that he said came from police hitting him in the face with a baton.
Huntley said he was on his way home from work at Staten Island hospital — he showed BuzzFeed News his work ID — when he got caught in the anti-police protest crowd as it came down Eastern Parkway.
"The cops showed up — very hostile," Huntley said. He turned down Franklin Avenue, in Crown Heights, just a few blocks from his home, as police began arresting protesters.
"I see the crowd rushing, so I start walking even faster," said Huntley. "I try to run, but by this time the police ran down on me, and a cop swung his baton from behind and connected right here,” he said, pointing to his bruised eye socket.
"When I fell on the floor, that’s when I felt a knee on my neck, and also I had two cops behind me, kicking and punching, telling me, ‘Get the fuck off the streets,’" Huntley said.
"That part that really made me nervous was the cop put his knee in my neck," he continued. "After that, I didn’t put up no resistance, nothing, I just laid down and put my hands before my back.”
All three men said NYPD officers whispered the n-word to them while they were being arrested.
“We were called niggers, in our ears, when we were on the floor,” Gifford said. “They don’t say it out loud, they whisper in your ear while they’ve got you on the floor.”
“And it makes you want to wiggle,” added Blue, noting that officers then told him not to resist.
“The quote that I heard was, ‘You niggers thought you were faster than us,'" Huntley said.
The NYPD did not respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment. Past investigations into the use of racial slurs by NYPD officers have cleared officers of any wrongdoing.
All three arrested men grew up in Crown Heights during the stop-and-frisk era of policing in New York, a policy that allowed police to stop, question, and search anyone — but which predominantly affected young black men.
Now the three have been charged with obstructing government administration and given a summons to appear in court in October.
“They’re giving us all these bogus charges,” said Huntley, who says he expects the charge will get dropped, as the Brooklyn district attorney is not prosecuting most protest arrests. “It’s not going to go on your record, but at the same time, it’s 24 hours out of your life gone.”
But because of the arrest, he's also worried he might lose his job at the hospital, where he hopes he can get a CAT scan to check for any issues caused by a police baton to the face.
"To me," Huntley said, "it’s no longer the land of the free.”