Two Brooklyn friends hit by an NYPD SUV that surged into a crowd of protesters Saturday say cops later pepper-sprayed them and struck them with batons — but the duo vowed to keep marching.
Roommates Devin Khan, 22, and Hazkel Brown, 24, grabbed a metal police barricade as they walked from Prospect Park down Flatbush Avenue during a demonstration sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
They and several others held the barrier in front of an NYPD squad car at the corner of St. Marks Avenue around 7:50 p.m. as a bag of trash, a traffic cone and other projectiles flew overhead.
“The barricade was already in the street and people were carrying them as a precaution because the police were using a lot of force that day,” Khan said. “Next thing, a second car comes up on my left, and then the car in front of us just lunges forward with so much force it sent me flying. I landed on the ground on my back.”
Khan said another police SUV surged into the crowd from the other direction, though it was not captured on video shared on social media.
He eventually got back on his feet and tried to photograph the chaotic aftermath with his Nikon F100.
Mayor’s Words Sting
“I’m not a violent protester or an outside agitator,” said Khan, who has lived in New York since 2016 and was laid off from a restaurant gig during the pandemic. “To hear the mayor basically say it’s OK for a police car to barrel down the street into human beings is infuriating — particularly when this is a protest about police brutality and violence.”
Khan was responding to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s initial condemnation of the protesters’ actions. “It is inappropriate for protesters to surround a police vehicle and threaten police officers,” de Blasio said later that Saturday night. “That’s wrong on its face and that hasn’t happened in the history of protests in this city.”
The mayor added that “a different element has come into play here who are trying to hurt police officers and trying to damage their vehicles.”
By Monday, de Blasio tempered his earlier criticism. “There is no situation where a police vehicle should drive into a crowd of protesters or New Yorkers of any kind. It is dangerous, it is unacceptable,” de Blasio said. “This was an extremely aberrant situation.”
The NYPD and an independent review board are investigating the incident, de Blasio said. The Police Department said the matter “remains under internal review.” A spokesperson with the Civilian Complaint Review Board also confirmed that they “received a complaint stemming from that incident.”
‘We’re Not Domestic Terrorists’
Khan and Brown insist that the police provoked the marchers. Earlier in the day, around 4 p.m., they say a police helicopter swooped down on marchers on Flatbush Avenue near Bergen Street.
“They flew it so low and used the force of the blades to whip up debris and spread dirt all onto people,” said Khan, a freelance photographer originally from Washington, D.C., who moved to New York City four years ago to study at Parsons.
“That kind of set the tone for the day. That made people really upset. We were out for a peaceful march, being supportive of each other. I saw old people, mothers with children, people in wheelchairs, Asian, white, black, all kinds of people who are just tired and angry with what’s happening. We’re not domestic terrorists.”
Brown, an artist and restaurant worker who settled in Flatbush after immigrating from Costa Rica with his family 10 years ago, added that the officers on the ground were “pushing people back, even as children and families were out on their stoops.
“They were circling and trying to arrest people,” Brown added. “The police are supposed to protect us, not hunt us.”
When the squad car surged against the barricade near St. Marks Avenue, Brown said another friend’s arm was badly cut. Though injured and shaken, they all decided to proceed to Manhattan’s Union Square.
They walked across the Manhattan Bridge and were met by a wall of cops in riot gear. Someone amid the crowd of protesters shouted that the police had pepper spray, so Khan put on his sunglasses over his bandana.
“There was this line of cops in helmets and shields, like something out of a movie, and one of them yelled, ‘Advance! Move forward!,’” Khan said. “We walked toward them with our hands in the air, just trying to look them in the eye, and this one cop yells, ‘Get the f— out of the way!’”
Khan said he was trying to reason with an officer, explaining that he had just been hit by an NYPD squad car, when a police baton cracked his left shoulder and then slammed into his abdomen.
Another officer shot pepper spray in his friend’s face, and then sprayed an arc indiscriminately into the crowd of protesters, he added.
“It was physically the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” Khan said. “I was on fire. The mace, the pepper spray, burns and it feels like the air is being sucked out of your lungs by a vacuum.”
He ripped off his bandana, which had become soaked with spray, and choked for air.
Brown was hit by a police baton so badly, he said, that an urgent care doctor told him he had nerve damage in his swollen right arm. He did not go to the emergency room because his mother, a hospital worker, advised against it for fear he’d catch COVID-19.
“I have asthma, too, and had just been maced, so that puts me at a higher risk,” Brown said.
Khan, Brown and four of their friends eventually made their way to a Union Square deli to buy water, bandages and packs of cigarettes.
“After the night we had, I blew through half a pack,” Khan said. “I couldn’t breathe and my skin was burning.”
Prepared for More Protest
After spending two days recuperating and downing ibuprofen, Khan and Brown were preparing to protest at The Stonewall Inn Tuesday evening.
They wrapped their arms in plastic wrap. Brown removed his contact lenses. They packed an extra set of clothing.
“Yes, there’s the danger of COVID, but even if that goes away, we’ve got these other viruses — racism, white supremacy, police brutality,” Brown said. “Those viruses aren’t going anywhere unless people are willing to do something.
“I understand the risks, but I can’t stay silent,” he added. “I don’t think violence is the answer, but people need to remember that everything in this country from the Boston Tea Party to women’s suffrage to civil rights to gay rights was based on revolution and riots.”
Khan admitted being concerned that President Donald Trump would send in the military “and they’ll just start shooting.”
“I think it’s a risk worth taking,” he said. “I’d rather die than live in a world where this kind of violence is normalized. I’ll jump in front of a million police cars if I have to.”