De Blasio, Police Commissioner Defend NYPD As Violent Police Videos Go Viral

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended police officers while announcing that independent investigators will review the NYPD's response to this weekend's protests.

New York City鈥 s mayor and police commissioner on Sunday both defended local officers engaged in violent standoffs with protesters as mass demonstrations erupted across the U.S., sparked by the death of Black man George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Videos and images circulated on social media Saturday afternoon showing New York Police Department officers driving vans into crowds, accosting credentialed media 鈥 and arresting a HuffPost reporter 鈥 and, in one instance, apparently pulling down a protester鈥檚 mask to pepper spray him as the demonstrations progressed into the evening.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio addresses the press after he and first lady Chirlane McCray donated blood during the COVID-19 pandemic at New York Blood Center.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio addresses the press after he and first lady Chirlane McCray donated blood during the COVID-19 pandemic at New York Blood Center.
Pacific Press via Getty Images

Referring to officers driving into crowds, de Blasio said on Saturday he thought the incident could have been avoided 鈥渋f those protesters had just gotten out of the way and not created an attempt to surround that vehicle.鈥

De Blasio also announced in a news briefing on Sunday that two local investigators 鈥 Department of Investigation head Margaret Garnett and Corporation Counsel James Johnson 鈥 will conduct an independent review in June of the NYPD鈥檚 actions during the weekend鈥檚 protests.

鈥淭he whole idea of having an independent review is to look at all the video and determine discipline for anyone who needs it, actions that should be taken additionally toward those who incited violence amongst the protesters and any changes we need in our approach to policing,鈥 de Blasio said.

Despite that, Sunday鈥檚 news conference largely deferred to the police during a time when police actions are under tremendous scrutiny.

鈥淚f you or anyone else was inside that police vehicle surrounded by people, you would鈥檝e had a really tough decision to make,鈥 de Blasio said.

The mayor said his approach to the protests is 鈥渁bout acknowledging the pain and the injustice and the oppression of people of color and acting on it more and more every day, period, 鈥 while at the same time not dehumanizing the people who are here to protect us.鈥

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea tweeted Sunday morning that he is 鈥渆xtremely proud鈥 of the way officers comported themselves throughout the weekend. He added in the news conference that the NYPD made more than 300 arrests on Saturday, primarily on minor offenses during protests in Harlem and on Staten Island.

鈥淲e easily could have made more, and you could make the argument that 鈥 possibly 鈥 we should have made more, and earlier,鈥 Shea added.

Shea said that both protests went 鈥渙verwhelmingly well.鈥 But he blamed outbreaks of violence on a group of protesters in Harlem who he said 鈥 without evidence 鈥 wanted to 鈥渉ijack a peaceful demonstration.鈥

Shea and de Blasio both blamed outside agitators for protest violence and praised the NYPD for the progress it has made to address accusations of unfair policing and violence against people of color.

The NYPD is a 鈥渇undamentally different鈥 department today than it was when de Blasio entered office in 2013, when 鈥渟top and frisk鈥 was the dominant policing strategy, the mayor said.

Shea pointed to data showing reductions in the number of civilian complaints and lawsuits filed against the department as proof the NYPD has improved during that period.

However de Blasio and Shea characterized the department鈥檚 progress, their comments stood in stark contrast to Saturday鈥檚 widespread imagery of journalists arrested and police vans driving into crowds of people.

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