New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the NYPD on Thursday morning for showing “restraint” in its dealings with protesters and claimed to have no knowledge of the widely circulated videos showing police officers using batons and shoving peaceful protesters after the 8 p.m. curfew. Hours later, the mayor was booed and taunted during a George Floyd memorial in Brooklyn.
In prepared remarks at the start of his daily briefing on Thursday, de Blasio said that despite some “specific horrible moments,” Wednesday night’s protests were overwhelmingly peaceful. Then he lauded the NYPD’s handling of the situation. “Last night in New York City, the NYPD was out there protecting us,” de Blasio said. “Men and women of the NYPD. We ask so much of them. We ask so much strength, so much restraint. They were out there protecting us. They do every day.”
During the question-and-answer section, de Blasio was asked to comment on NYPD activity captured in numerous videos. “A lot of folks can see on video the use of batons, protesters who are asked to leave being hit with batons,” noted NBC New York’s Andrew Siff. “Wondering what you think about that and whether you condone that type of police behavior?”
De Blasio started by reiterating that the protests were largely peaceful, then said we saw “a lot of restraint from the NYPD overall.” He then claimed that he was unaware of any footage to the contrary. “I have not seen the videos you refer to or seen those accounts,” he said. “But if there’s anything that needs to be reviewed, it will be. If there’s anything that needs to be investigated, it will be.”
He then offered more praise for the NYPD response, admonished protesters who defy officers’ instructions, and criticized the “very few” demonstrators who “simply want to create conflict, want videos of conflict, want to attack police officers, want to attack property.”
I want to be clear. When people are instructed by the NYPD, especially after curfew, they must follow those instructions. The NYPD has actually taken, I think, a very open approach respecting protest, flexible as always. This is part of what is never given its credit, is that the decades of NYPD handling protests where there’s, in many ways, the approach is to give space. And if protesters do not engage in violence, they’re given the opportunity to protest.
We still know there are some in these crowds who are committing violence or aim to commit violence. It’s an obvious fact; we’re seeing it all over the country. And we’re going to keep providing information to the media. About the very few, and I want to emphasize, Andrew, very few, who aim to do violence. Whether its just the pure vandals that we saw on Sunday, Monday night or whether it is those who, again, based on an ideology I can’t even follow or understand, simply want to create conflict, want videos of conflict, want to attack police officers, want to attack property. Very small number, but that has to be addressed.
But if there’s any instance of inappropriate activity by police, we will investigate that. It’s the balance we always strike. But let’s never forget that the vast majority of our officers are doing something very difficult at this moment and showing a lot of restraint and trying to shepherd us through this moment to a better and more peaceful moment.
Judging from the crowd reaction during the Brooklyn memorial service for George Floyd, whose killing by Minneapolis police has sparked protests worldwide, de Blasio’s latest words did nothing to quell anger over his handling of the unrest.
While Governor Andrew Cuomo appears to relish any opportunity to contradict Mayor de Blasio, during his own press conference on Thursday morning, he claimed ignorance of any NYPD misbehavior as well. Per Politico:
At an Albany press conference, Cuomo said he did not believe the police used excessive force.
“If somebody’s standing there and they just walked up and hit somebody with a baton, that’s wrong. But I don’t believe that’s what happened,” he said. “Police bludgeon peaceful protesters with batons for no reason? That’s not a fact. They don’t do that. Anyone who did do that would be obviously reprehensible if not criminal.”
Multiple videos surfaced Wednesday night as police whacked protesters on bikes with batons and threw demonstrators to the ground.
Cuomo said cops were right to force crowds to disperse.
“Police have to enforce the law. If you are violating the curfew and you refuse to leave so you continue to violate the curfew, the police officers have to enforce.”
Here’s some of the footage that de Blasio and Cuomo say they’ve missed:
Unlike de Blasio and Cuomo, many of New York’s elected officials said they have seen the footage and find it totally unacceptable. “This isn’t a problem of bad apples or incidents. This is an institutional and systemic crisis,” tweeted Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in response to one of the videos.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer agreed, tweeting: “The penalty for protesting after curfew is not to be beaten senseless by the police. That @NYCMayor has not seen these videos is not just ignorance, it’s a total disgrace.”
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams criticized the NYPD and de Blasio in a tweet Wednesday night after seeing officers push protesters out of Borough Hall in Brooklyn in person.
Williams tweeted Thursday morning that de Blasio and Cuomo “apparently missed every social media post, every news story on every channel and written news outlet about the incident.” He added that he’s “so ashamed” of the mayor.
He’s not the only one. On Wednesday, an open letter to de Blasio signed by more than 400 current and former members of his administration was published online.
“We have joined together in writing this letter because we could not remain silent while the Administration we served allows the NYPD to turn our City into an occupied territory,” the letter says. “Our former boss might not hear the cries for justice from Black and brown New Yorkers, but we do.”