New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading the charge against police impunity related to the many incidents of brutality officers from the NYPD levied against people peacefully demonstrating against racial injustice in the city last summer.
On Thursday, the attorney general announced that her office has filed a lawsuit against the police department, its chief and commissioner, as well as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city of New York. The complaint charges the NYPD with a pattern of using excessive force against New Yorkers over the years, and most recently, during protests in 2020 against the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.
As The Root reported at the time, police in NYC—like others across the country—were seen driving their patrol vehicles into crowds of demonstrators last summer and even pulling one young Black protestor’s mask down to deploy pepper spray directly in his face.
The federal complaint filed by James against the NYPD lists those incidents and several more, and accuses officers of causing significant injuries to protestors and violating their basic rights.
From a release about the lawsuit:
In one instance, Luke Hanna, who was participating in a protest at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn on June 3, was struck in the back of the head with a baton without provocation or justification while complying with a police directive to disperse. The baton strike caused a gash so severe that Hanna required ten staples in his head to close it. Neither the officer who hit Hanna nor any other officer nearby sought or provided medical attention for Hanna’s wound, and Hanna was not arrested or charged with any crime.
In another instance, Andrew Smith, who was participating in a protest in Brooklyn on May 30, had his COVID-19 facemask pulled down without warning or cause by an officer and was pepper sprayed in the face. As a result of being pepper sprayed, Smith suffered a severe burning sensation to his eyes and face, exacerbation to eczema on the back of his neck that lasted for hours, and difficulty removing and wearing contact lenses for at least a week after the incident. Smith also suffered stress and fear that he had been exposed to COVID-19 when the officer removed his facemask. Smith was not arrested or charged with any crime and did not receive medical aid from any of the officers nearby, in violation of NYPD policy. After the incident, body-worn camera footage captured the officer who sprayed Smith asking fellow officers whether they used their pepper spray and bragging, “I took the guy’s goggles, I ripped the s—- off and I used it.”
The lawsuit also cites the NYPD using the kettling technique to trap protestors—including a pregnant woman—in a confined area during a June demonstration in Mott Haven section of South Bronx, and references an investigation by the Office of the attorney general that found that NYPD police used unreasonable force against protestors and struck them numerous times with pepper spray, batons, and even bikes between May and December of last year.
“No one is above the law — not even the individuals charged with enforcing it,” said James of the lawsuit, which seeks a court order declaring the NYPD’s behavior during the protests as unlawful as well as the installation of a monitor who will oversee the department’s practices at future protests. “The NYPD and its senior leaders failed to address this long-standing pattern of abuse by not properly training, supervising, and disciplining officers to prevent misconduct, despite knowing and publicly admitting that it violated the rights of New Yorkers.
“I couldn’t agree more that there are pressing reforms that must—and will—be made this year,” de Blasio said to CNN in response to the lawsuit. “That work is critical and is happening right now. A court process and the added bureaucracy of a federal monitor will not speed up this work.”
Well, I’m glad someone is holding some police somewhere legally accountable for their treatment of protestors standing up against racism, especially when compared to how we recently saw how law enforcement officers treated white people bringing all kinds of violent behavior to the U.S. Capitol. So far lukewarm reforms haven’t seemed to do much in thwarting the NYPD’s distinctly hostile behavior towards anything having to do with Black people.