Another day of protests over the death of George Floyd brought more examples of New York City officials downplaying or denying the police department’s rough treatment of protesters — even when it was caught on video.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday said he had personally seen “no use of force around peaceful protests” and cast doubt on people who had, belying social media posts and witness accounts of officers moving on demonstrators without provocation and bashing them with batons.
De Blasio made the comment in response to questions at his morning news briefing about teams of officers aggressively breaking up a rally in the Bronx as the city’s 8 p.m. curfew kicked in Thursday, leading to scores of arrests and cries of brutality. He said officers were using “lots of restraint” with protesters.
“What an absolute disgrace. This is just not true,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer tweeted afterward. “You are gaslighting an entire City.”
Protesters marched through the city again Friday by the thousands. The violent flareups that characterized some demonstrations last weekend have almost entirely given way to peaceful affairs. Looting that occurred on Sunday and Monday also appears to have ceased.
The tension now has occurred around the city’s 8 p.m. curfew, with police at some protests using force to enforce the order barring assemblies.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said by “willfully ignoring the evidence” of bystanders, reporters, observers, and peaceful protesters being brutalized in plain sight, the mayor is emboldening the police to cause more harm.
“I guess at this point the mayor is delusional,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said officers at the Bronx rally were acting on information that some in the crowd were plotting to destroy property and attack police, citing posters he said advertised the plan. Shea said police recovered a gun, gasoline and other weapons at the event, adding that officers had done a “phenomenal job the last couple of nights.”
Police made no mention of a gun or gasoline in a Friday night news release about the clash, saying that some people were throwing “plastic bottles with unknown liquids,” one person attempted to throw a wheel barrow at an officer and that police recovered hammers, wrenches, gas masks and other items “that could be used to cause injuries.” About 260 people were arrested, mostly for violating curfew.
Jake Offenhartz, a reporter for the news website Gothamist who was at the rally, challenged Shea’s account at Friday’s news briefing, saying what he saw firsthand “is nothing like what you’re describing.”
Videos posted on Twitter showed helmeted officers charging the vocal but non-violent crowd, pushing protesters back with bicycles and bloodying some with batons.
De Blasio was skeptical, saying unnamed observers from City Hall “saw a very different reality than what you saw.”
The mayor, though, promised that all police misconduct allegations would be investigated. He also chided officers for mistreating essential workers exempt from the curfew, such as food delivery workers and journalists.
Shea, who gave a fiery speech Thursday denouncing a wave of vicious attacks on officers, said “sometimes when you’re in the middle of something, you don’t get to see the big picture too.”
The police department’s treatment of peaceful protesters, amid smash-and-grab sprees and sporadic unrest, has come under fire as demonstrations stretch into a second weekend, spurred by George Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck.
After officers were recorded Wednesday shoving and hitting peaceful protesters as they enforced the curfew, it was Gov. Andrew Cuomo who doubted it happened, telling an Associated Press reporter that her question about the use of force was “a little offensive” and ”incendiary rhetoric.”
Cuomo backtracked after seeing the video and asked the state’s attorney general to probe that incident in her investigation into police misconduct during the protests. In a tweet, he said: “No peaceful protestor deserves to be hit with a baton and no self-respecting police officer would defend that.”