It was about 8:45 p.m. in Brooklyn on Wednesday, 45 minutes past the city’s curfew, when a peaceful protest march encountered a line of riot police, near Cadman Plaza.
Hundreds of demonstrators stood there for 10 minutes, chanting, arms raised, until their leaders decided to turn the group around and leave the area.
What they had not seen was that riot police had flooded the plaza behind them, engaging in a law enforcement tactic called kettling, which involves encircling protesters so that they have no way to exit from a park, city block or other public space, and then charging them and making arrests.
For the next 20 minutes in downtown Brooklyn, officers swinging batons turned a demonstration that had been largely peaceful into a scene of chaos.
The kettling operations carried out by the city’s police after curfew on recent nights have become among the most unsettling symbols of the department’s use of force against peaceful protests, which has touched off a fierce backlash against Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea.
In the past several days, New York Times journalists covering the protests have seen officers repeatedly charge at demonstrators after curfew with seemingly little provocation, shoving them onto sidewalks, striking them with batons and using other aggressive tactics.
The escalation in the use of force in New York is part of a national trend. Across the country, local police have resorted to violent tactics to control the protest movement that was ignited by the death George Floyd, a black man, as he was being held down by a white officer in Minneapolis.
The strategy has been broadly defended by both de Blasio and Shea, who said it was necessary escalation to deter looters who ransacked parts of Manhattan over the weekend.
“There comes a point where enough is enough,” de Blasio said Thursday.
But there have been few reports of looting in the last three days of unrest. Instead, police are deploying their aggressive tactics against protesters who have done little beyond violating the city’s 8 p.m. curfew to march. About 270 people were arrested Thursday night.