New York State Attorney General Letitia James sued the New York City Police Department on Thursday, alleging widespread abuses in the response to protests over police brutality and systemic racism last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Citing “a pattern of using excessive force and making false arrests against New Yorkers during peaceful protests,” James said the lawsuit “specifically charges the NYPD, the City of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, and NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan with failing to address this longstanding pattern of abuse by not properly training, supervising, and disciplining officers to prevent misconduct, despite knowledge and public admission that it violated the rights of New Yorkers.”
The lawsuit comes following an investigation by James’s office into aggressive police tactics seen this summer, including the beating of demonstrators with batons and bicycles; the arrests of legal observers and medics; and a crowd-control strategy known as kettling, in which officers confine a large group of protesters in a small area to restrict their movement and make arrests. In one notable instance, the NYPD trapped thousands of protesters on the Manhattan Bridge for hours, a tactic defended by Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Shea.
“There was ample ability and opportunity for the city and NYPD leadership to make important changes to the way that officers interact with peaceful protesters, but time and time again, they did not,” James added. “They did not train, they did not supervise, they did not stop officers who engaged in this misconduct. And they did not discipline them either. Instead, they failed the people of the City of New York.”
The lawsuit comes amid widespread criticism of the practices and policies of the U.S. Capitol Police, who failed to provide enough officers to protect Congress on January 6 despite warnings from the FBI of imminent violence. As President-elect Joe Biden stated in the wake of the riot, if the pro-Trump insurrectionists were instead Black Lives Matter protesters, they would have been treated “very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol.”
As part of the lawsuit, Attorney General James’s office is seeking a court order that would declare “that the policies and practices that the NYPD used during these protests were unlawful.” In addition, the AG is asking for policy reforms and a monitor to oversee NYPD tactics and the handling of future protests. According to NY1, this is the first time in state history that the New York attorney general has sued the New York City Police Department.