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black lives matter protesters march in favor of racial justice after the death of George Floyd in 2020

Protesters in New York on 19 June 2020 hold a "Black Lives Matter" sign and raise their fists as they march through Greenwich Village in a demonstration over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)

NYC Aims to Settle George Floyd Protest Arrests Lawsuit for $13 Million

More than 1,300 people protesting the murder of George Floyd were arrested by New York police officers between 28 May and 4 June 2020. Two years of litigation later, they might be nearing the end of a legal battle with the city over how they were treated. 

New York City (NYC) agreed last week to pay $13 million to hundreds of people who were arrested or beaten during the racial justice demonstrations. If the settlement is approved, it will be the largest class action settlement ever paid to protesters in the United States, Reuters reported. Each protester who was arrested will be paid $9,950 as part of the settlement; protesters who were arrested on other charges—such as arson, trespassing, property destruction, or assaulting officers—will be excluded from the settlement.

The lawsuit alleged that New York Police Department (NYPD) leaders deprived protesters of their First Amendment rights through a coordinated campaign of indiscriminate brutality and unlawful arrests, the Associated Press reported. The suit said that protesters in 18 locations were subjected to improper use of pepper spray, excessive force with batons, and other controversial tactics like “kettling”—when police corral protesters in a tight space or encircle them before making mass arrests. The practice, also called “trap and detain,” often leads to heightened tensions between police and the people being corralled.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the police maintained that officers were responding to an unprescedented and chaotic situation in which some unruly protesters pelted officers with rocks and plastic bottles. The attorneys said there was no systematic effort to deprive people of their right to protest.

Under the settlement, neither the city nor the NYPD is required to admit wrongdoing.

A separate lawsuit focusing on a protest in the Bronx on 4 June 2020 resulted in NYC agreeing in March 2023 to pay nearly $10 million to settle allegations brought by protesters who were kettled at a demonstration. Under the settlement's terms, the city announced it would pay $21,500 (plus an extra $2,500 to protesters who were given court appearance tickets) to at least 200 protesters who were detained, arrested, or met with force during the protest. At least 61 people were hurt in the incident.

More than 600 people brought individual claims against NYC related to police action during the 2020 protests, and roughly half have been resolved—costing the city nearly $12 million so far, the AP reported.

Kettling in particular has proven a costly tactic. In January 2023, the city of St. Louis, Missouri, agreed to pay $5.2 million to settle claims of mass arrests that used kettling tactics during a 2017 protest. Police surrounded a group of 120 people, claiming they failed to follow dispersal orders, according to the Post-Dispatch. Several people caught in the kettle alleged police used excessive force and pepper spray indiscriminately against the group—including against people who were not protesting. The city agreed to pay out an average of $58,500 per person to 84 people involved in the incident.