NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The NYPD is reporting more than 200 protest-related arrests following Friday night’s sometimes violent demonstrations in Brooklyn and Manhattan over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Mayor Bill de Blasio promised change on behalf of injured protesters, tear-gassed bystanders and brick-battered police officers who survived mayhem and bloodshed during the protests.
“We all have to do better, and that’s what we’re committed to do,” he said.
The violence escalated after a Lower Manhattan demonstration in Foley Square turned increasingly chaotic when crowds moved in and around Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
That’s where a protester’s cell phone camera caught a police officer pushing a woman to the ground near Barclays. The video does not show what led up to the incident.
A woman on social media identified herself as the victim. She says the unprovoked police brutality triggered a seizure.
“In no way was I aggressive toward this police officer,” she says in a video.
“We’ve seen some videos where protesters were handled very violently and roughly, and that is not neighborhood policing and we will not accept that kind of behavior from any police officer,” de Blasio said.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea conceded errors in judgement and a need to explore different response tactics, but he said the dangers to his officers were many and extreme.
“But it is very difficult to practice deescalation when you’re having a brick thrown at you at you, at your head,” Shea said. “In the emergency room as we speak, we’ve had incidents of officers’ teeth knocked out.”
Police arrested a 27-year-old woman from the Catskills for allegedly trying to set fire to a police vehicle with four officers inside in Crown Heights.
“We had an arrest effected for attempted murder of four police officers by an individual throwing a Molotov cocktail into an occupied, marked police van,” Shea said.
He said the officers escaped without injury.
“Any protester that tries to take the humanity away from a police officer and devalue them just because they are a public servant is no better than the racists who devalue people of color,” de Blasio said.
Several other NYPD vehicles were damaged, police said, and several officers were injured, including one sergeant who was punched by a protester wearing brass knuckles.
Law enforcement sources say at least three individuals are going to be charged federally in connection with crimes involving Molotov cocktails in two different Brooklyn precincts.
De Blasio endorsed peaceful protest and civil disobedience, and said most protesters were there to peacefully demonstrate, though some had another agenda.
“Some people came to do violence,” the mayor said. “But a lot of people there went because they had something to express.”
“Coming to an assembly, premeditated, with loaded firearms, with bricks, with Molotov cocktails, is the farthest thing possible from civil disobedience,” Shea said.
Shea said some of the protesters have come from out of town to cause violence. The commissioner pointed to how the Barclays Center protest was promoted ahead of time.
“This was a well-planned, orchestrated protest that was put out specifically to cause destruction and mayhem, and that what the billing for that second protest was,” Shea said.
On Saturday, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams held a news conference and suggested the way the NYPD was arrayed ahead of Friday’s protests helped contribute to escalating tensions.
“We can not have the heavy police presence that I saw at the outset, before anyone was outside. There was a wall of police that was here, here and here. It is an imposing position to be in. We are dealing with people who are grieving and who are angry. The response to that can not be a show of force. That will not help us get through this situation. We have to ask our police force to fall back,” Williams said. “Do not show that oppressive force right where you know people are coming to express their anger and express their pain. It is not helpful.”
Williams said when enforcement is needed, “this does not give you permission to overreact, and there still needs to be accountability for officers’ actions.
“We saw an officer throw and shove someone to the ground. She hit her head. That was unnecessary. There have to be answers for that. And the word is that officer has had issues like this before in Brownsville. I saw white shirts around that did nothing to approach the officer to talk to him, approach the person on the ground, or do anything. I saw officers open their doors to hit protesters. The answer to that can not be spraying indiscriminately pepper spray on anybody who may be there. That is not the response that we need,” he added.
Shea defended the way officers were deployed based on ominous online messages intercepted before the protest began.
“We have to plan accordingly to prevent the stores, the people that live and work in that area, and to keep peace,” he said.
“Violence is not the answer. It never is the answer,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.
Cuomo announced an independent review, signed off on by de Blasio, will be conducted by Attorney General Letitia James, saying he would like it concluded in 30 days.
“Review the police procedures, review the crowd’s actions and give us an independent review,” Cuomo said.
James released the following statement about the review:
“Peaceful protest is a basic civil right. That right should be protected and guarded. We take the designation to investigate last night’s actions very seriously. We will act independently to seek answers, ensure that the truth is laid bare, and that there is accountability for any wrongdoing. We will be transparent in our findings as we seek accountability for those who did wrong.”
“We are asking anyone with information about last night, including visual evidence, to please share it with our office so we can take it into account as we proceed with this investigation. Please email Complaints@ag.ny.gov.”
The governor also said it may be time to reform a police disclosure law that allows for officers’ disciplinary records to be released, but the Police Benevolent Association said those records must stay under wraps because releasing them can put officers’ lives in danger.
More protests are planned Saturday around the city.
The city is reminding people to follow social distancing rules.