Papers, Please: NYPD Harasses Protesters Going Home

New York police are targeting activists. Maya Kates recounts being stopped in a taxi going home after a protest.
  • Maya Kates | 
  • June 8, 2020
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

On the seventh evening of peaceful demonstrations against police brutality, New York’s administration once again confirmed its view of protesters: we are the enemy.

On Wednesday evening after a few hours of peaceful demonstrations outside of Gracie Mansion, the NYPD formed cordons surrounding East End Avenue from all directions in preparation for kettling, a tactic used to corner and arrest large groups. Noticing the baton-wielding forces and with curfew swiftly approaching, I waved goodbye to my fellow protesters and hailed a yellow taxi on 96th and Lexington. The driver and I chatted on the drive toward Inwood, admiring the fortitude and passion of the protests each passing day, and sharing sharp words over Govenor Cuomo’s despotic curfew used as justification for police violence.

Exiting the Harlem River Drive at 8:10pm, we rolled to a slow stop and assessed the peculiar traffic jam ahead. New York State Troopers were inspecting and interrogating each driver, often asking cars to pull aside where the questioning continued. Quickly, I searched through my wallet for proof of address and waited my turn in line as the fare meter and my own heart rate steadily increased.

A State Trooper with a covered badge approached:

State Trooper: Why are you driving? There’s a ban on vehicles in Manhattan.

Taxi Driver: I am transporting my passengers. Both pickup and destination are north of 96th street and pickup was before curfew. It’s legal. They’re going home.

State Trooper: Where is your destination?

Taxi Driver: Just ahead, two more blocks. It’s residential.

The State Trooper flashed a light into the car and observed my black protest attire before speaking again.

State Trooper: The exit is closed. You can’t pass through here.

Taxi Driver: It’s not closed, I’m dropping my passengers off two blocks ahead. It’s legal.

State Trooper: Not for protesters it isn’t.

In a tense standoff, the driver simply repeated the destination in response to each of the officer’s questions. Eventually, we were allowed to proceed ahead with a warning to “watch your back.”

This experience is not unique. That same evening, many essential workers also struggled to return home after curfew. State Troopers monitored exits on both the Harlem River Drive and the Henry Hudson Parkway, often claiming the exits were “closed” despite being five miles north of the boundary of the vehicular ban on 96th street. On the Dyckman exit off the Henry Hudson Parkway, a hospital worker driving home after a shift was refused access to his neighborhood. State Troopers told him to find another access point and sneered to each other: “How about take that bumper sticker off his car too,” referencing Warren/Klobuchar paraphernalia on his car.

Essential workers, those seeking medical treatment, and protesters returning home aimlessly wander each night, being denied access to their own neighborhood. In many cases, essential workers have been arrested while on the job, despite proof of status. While Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio claim the curfew is intended to reduce looting and violence,, the the violence and antagonism by the NYPD and NY State Troopers exposes the real agenda: identify, isolate, and arrest protesters and essential workers alike. 

Thanks to my dauntless taxi driver, I have the privilege of writing this safely inside my home rather than in a holding cell. Like the driver, we must continue to support and defend each other. These are our streets, and we will never let the police make us the enemy in our own city.

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