Image taken from a video published by TonySteeles on YouTube on June 29.
Hip-hop fans gathered at New York City’s Tammany Hall in the Lower East Side on Tuesday, June 28, for a record release party, featuring performances from various artists. Half-way through the evening the event was broken up by police, who scuffled with concert-goers in the street, leaving five people injured in the fray.
The party was for the release of “Monumental”, a collaboration between the hip-hop group Smif N Wessun and veteran musician and producer, Pete Rock, who has worked with a variety of artists since his career began in the 1980s, including several members of the popular Wu-Tang clan.
Footage of the incident was quickly posted on YouTube to draw attention to the New York Police Department’s policing tactics. In the video, one can see an inert body lying on the ground, as a male voice repeatedly bellows in the background “Film this sh**!” The man yelling comes into the camera’s frame, and it appears to be General Steele, one half of the duo Smif N Wessun. Steele then starts yelling, “You see Pete Rock over there? Film that, film Pete Rock!”
The camera follows his directive just in time to record images of police pulling out their nightsticks and begin clubbing a man as a woman attempts to break up the altercation, shouting “Don’t touch my f***ing brother” at the officers.
Although it is still unclear why the NYPD entered the club to break up the “Monumental” record release party, New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has dismissed accusations that his officers used excessive force in the incident, saying they “had every right to defend themselves against individuals assaulting them, and used appropriate force in doing so. They also protected civilians who were being pelted with bottles at the outset, as they responded to the location at the request of the club's own security”.
Police officers clash with party-goers outside of a music venue in New York City. Video published on YouTube by ladyjayuk on June 29.

“My only thought was that we had to document this, we had to have the truth”.

General Steele is a hip-hop artist and a member of the group Smif N Wessun. He was performing on stage June 28 when the NYPD entered Tammany Hall to break up the show.
The release party was initially a beautiful event, everyone was enjoying themselves and I’ve had people tell me since then it was the best party they’ve been to in a long time. It wasn’t just your everyday ‘rowdy club goers’.
The show was cut short. I remember seeing officers enter while I was still on stage, and I saw them exit. I was performing, I was feeling good, so I wasn’t aware of anything other than suddenly it was time to go.
People started to leave and then there was a commotion outside because the police had grabbed one of the club’s patrons – for what reason I don’t know. From there it kicked off. They were verbally and physically abusing people. Everyone there was asking the same question – what made the police react like that?
Growing up in New York, things can change from good to bad very fast. The police had detained one of the gentlemen I was on stage with just moments before, and I saw them beat his face and stomp on his back. I was like, ‘what is going on?’ Then the police started telling us to get back and they started macing this one guy, so we were all getting hit with the mace, and we got pushed back into the club. They had closed us in the club with the mace still in the air, and people were like, ‘let me out!’
Then I heard someone say that my mom was still outside, and I was like, ‘get me outta here’.
I’ve been to parades where things have gotten out of hand. I’ve attended the Million Youth March in Harlem and I’ve attended a number of rallies, but I’ve never seen anything so brutal or vicious as [that night at the “Monumental” record release party] before.
[The police] were geared up. They were ready to go. Maybe they thought it was a video game or something.
I saw my brother on the floor getting stomped on and I felt helpless. I still couldn’t find my mother and my worst nightmare was that she might have fallen and was lying there somewhere under the crowd. So my only thought was that we had to document this, we had to have the truth.
Since the June 28 incident, the police and the commissioner and the governor and the president have to realise that they have to find a different way of dealing with different types of people. We have to have a dialogue with police”.
Scenes outside the “Monumental” record release party in New York City. Video published on YouTube by TonySteeles on June 29.

“Now, we have the power to monitor the police”.

Johan Thomas is a reporter for NEWSONE, a website that specialises in news pertaining to black Americans. He lives in Brooklyn, and covered the incident at the “Monumental” record release party for the website.
In New York, the police seem to have a lot of natural aggression toward hip hop because of the idea that it is associated with drugs, violence and other stuff like that. When police show up to a hip hop how, they’re prepared to go to war.
According to what I’ve heard from people who were there, everything was all good in the venue before police stormed the club for reasons that are still unclear.
The police came in with an aggressive and overzealous attitude. They grabbed one of the artists, Luis Pena, and asked everyone to clear the venue. He was the first to be assaulted.
This first moment of violence sparked more violence, because people were trying to defend their friends, and the police began to feel aggressed.
Before camera phones there were camcorders, but because of the size people didn’t really go walking around with them. You either had to be in the right place at the right time, or a member of the media.
It’s an important moment in history for the black community. Now, we have the power to monitor the police and to document incidents of brutality.
It’s funny, because it seems like it’s the camera phones that anger the police, but it also seems like the camera phones are the only things controlling them.
I’ve been watching this evolution for some time. I’d say it’s only been since 2006 that people [in the black community] have really been using this technology [to document these types of incidents].
The first time people really began to realize that a camera could be used as a tool to document police brutality was in the Oscar Grant situation. Oscar Grant was a young man who was detained by police while in BART in Oakland [California] on New Year’s day, 2009. People in the area took videos of the cops shooting this kid, who was unarmed at the time.
The police officer was sentenced to jail for two years over the killing. This was really controversial, because some people were arguing that two years wasn’t a long enough sentence for killing someone, but a lot of other people argued that he wouldn’t have been jailed at all had it not been for the camera phone footage”.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Rachel Holman.