Dozens of people were arrested on Monday night in Lower Manhattan as hundreds participated in a march on Martin Luther King’s Birthday organized by Black activist groups, according to the police and witnesses.
Videos posted online by witnesses and participants show New York Police Department officers with helmets, batons and zip ties trying to clear protesters who had gathered on the streets and sidewalks near City Hall. Some of the marchers went to the area after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.
A spokesman for the department said “dozens” of arrests had been made between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. in the vicinity of Chambers and Centre Streets. According to some videos posted online, the police began arresting people after urging the crowd to disperse.
One witness, Jordan Plaza of the Bronx, said a relatively small number of protesters had spilled off the sidewalks and into the street when the police announced that they were obstructing the road and would soon be arrested.
“They weren’t approaching the police in a violent manner,” Ms. Plaza, 20, said. “Police randomly surged.”
Ms. Plaza said she had stumbled upon the protest earlier in the night on the way to see friends and joined on a whim. She said she was startled by what she saw and contrasted the treatment of protesters in New York City with the treatment of those loyal to President Trump who rioted inside the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago.
“It baffles me because the Capitol building, they were able to get in,” Ms. Plaza said. “Here, they were protesting outside a courthouse.” (The New York County Surrogate’s Court is on Centre Street, as is the Tweed Courthouse, which houses the New York City Department of Education.)
The episode came in the late hours of Martin Luther King’s Birthday, and just days after the New York State attorney general, Letitia James, sued the New York Police Department over its handling of protests this summer after the death of George Floyd.
Ms. James wants a court-appointed monitor to oversee the department’s policing tactics at protests. If successful, this monitor would join another monitor appointed in 2013 to oversee how the city implements changes to its stop-and-frisk policy.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, is the first time that the state attorney general has sued a police department, according to Ms. James’s office.
“There was ample ability and opportunity for the city and N.Y.P.D. leadership to make important changes to the way that officers interact with peaceful protesters, but time and time again, they did not,” Ms. James said.
Alex Traub contributed reporting.