Why is the oldest public defender org in NYC silent on this week’s shocking police brutality? (UAW 2325 Members at The Legal Aid Society in New York)

On April 30, 2024, over 300 NYC college students were brutalized and arrested by the NYPD for exercising their right to peacefully protest. 

The severity of the NYPD’s violence against the student demonstrators the night of April 30 cannot be overstated. At Columbia University, riot-gear clad police officers beat, pepper sprayed, and used flash grenades against unarmed students. One NYPD officer threw a student down a set of stone stairs, their limp body hitting each step before slamming face-down on the ground below. According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, an NYPD officer fired live rounds inside of a student-occupied building on Columbia’s campus. One officer messaged another saying they initially thought they had shot someone. 

Simultaneously, at the City College of New York, hundreds of militarized officers from the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group perpetrated extreme acts of violence against protesters. Prior to storming the encampment, a NYPD lieutenant reportedly said to another, “No more warnings, we don’t need to give them any warnings.” Police beat students with nightsticks, aimed pepper spray directly into their faces, slammed them into cars, and charged at groups of people with batons, causing stampedes into the street. Many of the arrested students, bloodied from the police’s attacks, were not released from custody until late in the afternoon on May 2.

These events cannot be disputed. We all watched in horror as NYC campuses became war zones, with phalanxes of officers marching through our streets in the hundreds. The NYPD’s military-style assaults on college campuses were also extensively documented on social media, where a single search will produce countless images. Some of the students had to be treated at hospitals for a variety of injuries, including head trauma. Some of those who needed treatment were forced to wait until they were released, over 24 hours later.

In the wake of such events, one might reasonably expect that the city’s oldest public defender organization would issue a statement condemning the severe brutality of the NYPD, which has perennially wielded the same violence against our clients. Instead, the Legal Aid Society — which has previously had no trouble denouncing NYPD violence– issued a muted statement denouncing only the processing of arrested activists who “should have been issued DATs” rather than centrally booked, and the fact that protesters were held over 24 hours. This statement was not distributed to staff, but quietly published under the News section of the Legal Aid Society’s website.

The Legal Aid Society’s statement is more than woefully inadequate: by failing to explicitly condemn the police’s brutal behavior toward the students, our organization tacitly underwrites their viciousness, sadism, and disrespect for protesters’ human rights. The fact that this tepid statement, completely out of step with other Legal Aid-disseminated statements on police brutality, concerns the targeting of students engaged in pro-Palestinian speech is not lost on any of us.

As public defenders whose job it is to denounce police brutality, to have held back in this instance is shameful. We call upon The Legal Aid Society to replace the current milquetoast statement with one that does honor to our proud tradition of unequivocally calling out police violence.


Rebecca Heinegg
Daniella Korotzer
Stephanie Saloman
Max Baumbach

Brooklyn Criminal Defense Practice 

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