When Lean Deleon gathered in Union Square last week to rally for workers’ and immigrants’ rights as part of the global May Day and International Workers' Day movements, he did not expect to find himself in police custody.
“This was the first time I was arrested — ever,” Deleon said. The 28-year-old Jersey City resident, who attended several past May Day events in the city and has been an activist since high school, was among the 32 protesters arrested at events in the city on May 1.
Deleon and several other May Day protesters spoke about their arrests and denounced the NYPD’s actions at a rally organized by the May Day Union Square Coalition outside City Hall on Wednesday afternoon.
According to the coalition made up of anarchists, anti-fascists and socialists, the “vast majority of the arrests were made after police forced thousands of marchers onto sidewalks — then arrested those who were jostled into the streets.”
While there is always a police presence at protests in New York, “this time around, there was kind of an eerie feeling,” Deleon said. “There was more police everywhere, and they seemed kind of on the verge that something was going to happen.”
Deleon said he was holding the flag for the International League of Peoples’ Struggle when he heard police say, “Grab that person” behind him.
“I asked them what they needed, if they wanted me to put my flag down, go to a certain place, and they said, ‘No, we’re just going to arrest you,’” he said.
Deleon said he was cuffed and detained at the rally for about 30 minutes before being taken to a police precinct downtown, where he was held for three hours with other protesters.
“I was literally there fighting for better lives, better living wages and conditions, and dignified work,” he said. “To be cuffed like that and treated like an animal about to be slaughtered was really, really scary. You don’t know what’s going to happen next now that you’re in handcuffs, and you’re immobilized.”
Deleon was charged with misconduct and obstruction of traffic. He hopes that “by galvanizing the community and calling attention to these unjust arrests, that our charges will be dropped” before the protesters’ scheduled hearing at the end of June, he said.
The May Day Union Square Coalition called for the resignation of NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and for the department to “stop the criminalization of mostly black and brown bodies and activists that are speaking up” at the rally.
“The NYPD’s repression of the rally was characterized by the arrests and violence against migrant workers, and included the targeting of LGBTQ leaders, Black Lives Matter activists and Antifa [anti-fascist] activists,” Teresa Gutierrez of the coalition said in a statement.
“It does scare me, but at the end of the day, I know that what I’m fighting for is so much bigger and is adding fuel to the fire,” he said. “Being arrested is scary, but if we don’t continue to march forward and move forward, then we’ve already lost.”
The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.