On November 4, more than 300 voters gathered at one of Williamsburg’s busiest intersections to celebrate the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, but things quickly got out of hand. Officers from the 94th Precinct arrived to clear the mass of people from the street, but a combination of post-election excitement, illegal alcoholic beverages, an escalating police presence, and a few bad apples turned what should have been a peaceful political get together into a violent fiasco that resulted in three arrests, five summonses, and a number of serious injuries. Making matters worse, much of the incident was captured by cameras and video recording devices, and footage of officers acting in a less than professional manner were posted to a number of websites.
Responding to many residents were are calling an excessive police response, Captain Dennis Fulton, Commanding Officer of the 94 Precinct defended the actions of his officers at a meeting of the Community Board 1’s Public Safety Committee.
“What happened on election night was unnecessary in my opinion,” said Captain Fulton. “There were approximately 300 people participating in an unauthorized celebration, and the result was not peaceful.” Captain Fulton was primarily concerned with the blockage of traffic on Bedford Ave, one of the area’s primary roadways. “We can’t allow that. It could be a life or death situation.”
Captain Fulton was first made aware of the incident as he drove down Bedford Ave and discovered that traffic was at a stand still. Upon further investigation, he discovered the unlawful gathering at North 7, and called for backup. A number of officers from the 94 Precinct did their best to persuade the more than 300 people to leave peacefully, but when it became clear that they would not, Captain Fulton called the Brooklyn North Tax Force, a special unit of the NYPD, for assistance.
The captain described the crowd as angry and attempting to intimidate the officers. He said that it was clear that many in the crowd were holding alcoholic beverages that they had removed from nearby bars, and that bottles were being thrown from within the crowd and from the roofs of nearby buildings.
Captain Fulton described many of the officers as exhausted, having had to work long hours at polling booths, and not pleased to be dealing with a situation that they considered to be a waste of resources. He admitted that many of the officers may have acted in a somewhat unprofessional manner, and video shows officers using inappropriate language. He defended an officer who knocked a cellular telephone out of a person’s hand, saying that it was being held in the officers face and that it is not unheard of for weapons to be disguised as cell phones. Several officers suffered injuries, including one officer who had to be taken to the hospital.
“I don’t think the officers did anything wrong,” said Captain Fulton. “I have the right to lock up all 300 of those people, but I didn’t want to do that. We realize that these people are just celebrating. I think the police showed tremendous restraint.”
Captain Fulton told the Public Safety Committee that he would continue to reach out to members of the community in an attempt to prevent similar situations from occurring in the neighborhood. “We want to improve realations with the community. Every corner of the community. The community itself is not well served by this.” He also asked that the bar owners who had attended the committee meeting in order to request renewals on their liquor licenses stop patrons from leaving their bars with alcohol in hand.