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Video of Arrest in Chinatown Park Sparks Outrage

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

CHINATOWN — An online video showing a man being arrested for playing music in a public park has stirred outrage in Chinatown, even as some in the community defended police for doing their job.

The video, recorded on Sunday, May 8 in Columbus Park, begins by showing officers handcuffing a man who is lying on his stomach while a group of onlookers loudly protest.

After the man is brought to his feet, his face appears bloodied and the agitated crowd begins to surround the group of officers.

"Back up, you're going to get maced," one officer can be heard saying on camera, while waving a canister at those trying to intervene.

The same officer then appears to grab an object from his belt and swing it at the crowd as they move closer to the scene.

Police are shown in the video subduing the man while trying to handcuff him.
Police are shown in the video subduing the man while trying to handcuff him.
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A police source confirmed that officers from the 5th Precinct brought the man into the stationhouse because he was playing music in the park without a legally required permit and also did not have identification.

The incident is under internal investigation, the source said.

Since the video was posted on YouTube, garnering nearly 62,000 views as of Wednesday, the office of Councilwoman Margaret Chin has been flooded with hundreds of emails complaining about how the incident was handled.

The individual who posted the video did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Locals said the arrest caps off a long-simmering conflict between police seeking to pacify nearby residents making noise complaints and musicians in the park, who often violate laws requiring them to have permits to use speakers.

"The tension between the NYPD, area residents and performers in Columbus Park has persisted for far too long," Chin said in a statement Tuesday.

"The incident in Columbus Park last week was unacceptable — for both the officers and for the community members involved," she added in her statement. "There are clear rules to obtaining permits for amplified sound in all of the city's parks and they must be adhered to without exception."

Chin said she met Tuesday with the head of the 5th Precinct, Inspector Gin Yee, and other local officials to discuss the matter. Yee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some in the community empathized with police, saying they have been left with little option to control the musicians who regularly gather in Columbus Park to perform without the proper permits to use speakers.

The 5th Precinct regularly receives noise complaints from residents on nearby Bayard and Mulberry streets regarding loud music in the park, including at least one complaint shortly before the May 8 incident, said Jack Eng, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.

Eng said he was present for Tuesday's meeting between Chin, police and Parks Department officals, and said police warned the musicians that if they didn't stop playing music, they would be arrested.

"They were not cooperating with police," Eng said. "They refused to stop the noise."

This particular group of musicians has been aggressive with police when told to stop performing in the past, community sources said, leading to often-heated confrontations.

Eng said the issue of musicians playing in the park has been going on for years, but this is the first time he's heard of an incident like this occurring.

"I think if they follow the rules, there should be no problem," he said. "If they don't follow the rules, then they will always have a problem."

Chin added that the police must be allowed to do their jobs.

"Our local precincts are there to protect us, and they must be respected as they go about their duties," the councilwoman added.

"The situation that occurred in Columbus Park is disheartening on many levels. We must promote better understanding and closer ties between our local police precincts and the members of our community."

The 5th Precinct Community Council will gather for its monthly meeting Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., inside the community room at 21 Spring St.