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NYPD hunting for 6 protesters after melee leaves officer with broken nose

NYPD: 6 sought in assault that left cop with broken nose during protest

New York police said Monday they were looking for six people suspected of taking part in a melee that left an officer with a broken nose during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge over the weekend.

The Saturday night demonstration was protesting the deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement officers. The clash was the first violence to break out in New York during weeks of almost daily protests that began late last month after a grand jury declined to indict a white policeman, Darren Wilson, in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

More protests followed a Staten Island grand jury's decision this month not to indict another white officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the death of another black man, Eric Garner.

While some U.S. cities, including Ferguson, Oakland and Berkeley, have seen vandalism and violence, New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio have taken pride in their city's ability to host huge, traffic-blocking, peaceful demonstrations.

That all changed Saturday. Marchers headed over to the Brooklyn Bridge after a protest that police said drew as many as 25,000 people. About 7:30 p.m., two lieutenants spotted a man preparing to throw a large trash container over the railing onto traffic below, Deputy Chief William Aubry told a Monday news conference.

When a lieutenant tried to arrest the individual, Aubry said three women and three men tried to stop the officer. Video of the ensuing scuffle that was posted on YouTube shows several people trying to grab two policemen and pull them off the marcher they were attempting to detain.

Bratton said a protester punched one of the officers in the face and broke his nose.

"We do not take attacks on our police officers lightly. Never have, never will," said Bratton, who promised "significant rewards" for information leading to the arrest of any of the six. He said the video posted online would probably help police make arrests.

The incident has contributed to an uptick in tensions among demonstrators, police, police unions and the mayor.

Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Assn., has accused De Blasio of siding with protesters and against police in the Eric Garner case. The association has asked officers to sign a form demanding that the mayor not attend funerals of officers killed in the line of duty.

De Blasio called the statement divisive, and Bratton said Monday that Lynch had gone "a step too far."

According to New York police, 331 people have been arrested in marches since Dec. 3, mostly for unlawful assembly or other minor offenses. Six of the arrests have been for assaulting police, Bratton said. Policing the marches has cost about $23 million in overtime and other costs, he said.

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 tina.susman@latimes.com

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