Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
Dermot Shea, the commissioner of the New York Police Department, thanked officers for "standing up for the rule of law" during protests that have swept the nation and hit New York over the death of George Floyd, who died after being subdued by police.
Shea praised NYPD officers for the way they behaved when faced by "danger, disrespect, and denigration," calling looters and violent actors "a mob bent solely on taking advantage of a moment in American history."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked Attorney General Letitia James to investigate police conduct during the demonstrations after videos show apparently unprovoked clashes and police cars driving into crowds.
New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea threw his support behind the city's officers on Sunday, while footage of two squad cars ramming into a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn was making headlines and was widely shared on social media.
"What you've endured these last couple of days and nights — like much of 2020, so far — was unprecedented," Shea wrote in a statement that was shared on Instagram. "In no small way, I want you to know that I'm extremely proud of the way you've comported yourselves in the face of persistent danger, disrespect, and denigration."
Saturday was the fifth straight night that thousands of people took to the streets across the United States to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He was arrested on Monday for allegedly using a counterfeit bill, but died around 90 minutes later, handcuffed and subdued on the ground, beneath a policeman's knee. The arresting officer, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested and faces charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Scenes from demonstrations in New York show teeming crowds, looting, vandalism, arson, violence, and signs condemning police brutality.
Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
"What we saw in New York City last night and the night before was not about peaceful protest of any kind," he wrote. "It was not about civil disobedience. It was not about demonstrating against police brutality.
"What it was, quite frankly, was a mob bent solely on taking advantage of a moment in American history, to co-opt the cause of equality that we all must uphold, to intentionally inflict chaos, mayhem, and injury just for the sake of doing so."
In photos, people are seen slamming skateboards and wooden sticks into the windows of police vans, tagging them with graffiti, and torching them. ABC News Radio reported that 345 people were arrested over the protests, 33 officers were hurt, and 47 NYPD vehicles sustained damage over the course of Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
"The willful destruction of property will never be a legitimate expression of outrage with injustice. It is, itself, injustice. And no attempt at justification — on television, in newspaper columns, or on social media — will ever, ever make it otherwise. I only wish that those who castigate you from afar had the first-hand experience of being a New York City cop for just one evening."
Shea added: "You and I both know that perspectives, opinions, and outlooks would drastically be changed as a result."
However, clashes between officers and protesters were recorded too.
Policemen have been spotted shoving protesters, using pepper spray unprovoked, chasing after demonstrators to punch them, using bicycles as weapons, and beating people with batons. One officer on a horse trampled a protester beneath the animal's hooves.
A video taken Friday night showed a policeman approaching a woman, who was backing away from him, snatching her phone, and then tossing her on the ground. The woman, who identified herself as Dounya Zayer, said she had a seizure because of the fall and also suffered a concussion.
—Dounya Zayer (@zayer_dounya) May 30, 2020
On Saturday, videos emerged showing protesters crowding around an NYPD police cruiser and throwing bottles and garbage at the windshield. Suddenly, a second cruiser pulls up, and both begin inching forward slowly, before accelerating and tossing screaming protesters onto the road.
—Marco (@chieffymac11) May 31, 2020
—Pierre G. (@pgarapon) May 31, 2020
Late Saturday, NYPD officers also charged at a group of journalists in Brooklyn, hitting and then HuffPost's Chris Mathias. CNN's Keith Boykin was also taken into custody for filming a protest that took over the West Side Highway, and charged with "walking on the highway" and "disorderly conduct — blocking vehicular traffic."
A woman named Anju J. Rupchandani then shared a video on Twitter in which a police officer can be seen pulling down her nephew's face mask and pepper-spraying him — even though his hands were in the air.
The young man's mother, who is yet unnamed, wrote that her son was unarmed and backing away, posing no threat to the policemen. But "one thing he could not do was not be a black man," she added, "which means he did not have a chance."
—Ms. Anju J. Rupchandani (@AJRupchandani) May 31, 2020
More disturbing scenes emerged on Sunday night, with a video on Twitter showing a large group of officers charging toward protesters. One man who fell on the ground was dragged by his legs and overrun by policemen.
—Nate Igor Smith (@drivenbyboredom) June 1, 2020
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at a news briefing on Saturday that he has tasked Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the police's response to the protests. People deserve "answers" and "accountability," he said.
On Sunday, he followed that announcement by calling for standardized police misconduct policies nationwide and for the federal government to set a standard for what constitutes excessive force.
"We're very good in this country at telling other people how they should live their lives and how they should act, but we still discriminate on the basis of color of skin," he said in a statement. "Our challenge today is to use this moment, use this energy constructively and demand real positive change. And articulate what the change is that we want."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday, "I didn't like what I saw, I don't want to ever see it again," and reiterated Cuomo's request for a thorough investigation, according to Dan Mannarino, a WPIX reporter.
However, he also commended police officers for demonstrating "restraint."
—Dan Mannarino (@DanMannarino) May 31, 2020
But Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) disagreed, saying, "Running SUVs in crowds of people should never, ever be normalized. No matter who does it, no matter why."
—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 31, 2020
For his part, Shea thanked New York's officers for "standing up for the rule of law."
"Thank you for upholding the oath all of you swore when you became protectors of this great city," he continued. "And thank you for what you continue to do as each new day appears. Please keep watching out for one another, and always be safe."
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