ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Expanding on what he said earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday drew a distinct line in the sand about the difference between protesting and looting, and wants the public to understand the difference.

Speaking during his daily briefing on the George Floyd demonstrations and ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the governor addressed the NYPD‘s performance on Tuesday night keeping the peace on city streets during these “perilous” days of heightened tensions.

PHOTO GALLERY: Looting And Its Aftermath In New York City

Cuomo outlined the differences between peaceful protesting and looting, two things the city has experienced plenty of since the demonstrations started a week ago, saying each must be addressed separately.

He said protesting in this instance is due to, “Righteous indignation over Mr. Floyd’s murder and systemic racism and injustice,” but stressed that it must be done non-violently.

“Violence demeans the situation and loses righteous indignation,” Cuomo said. “When you are violent, you play to the critic and so on who say, ‘Oh, they’re all violent looters. They’re all a criminal element.’ And that actually defeats the righteousness of the message.”

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The governor then called looting, “Criminal behavior, plain and simple,” adding, “There’s no righteousness, there’s no message, there’s no indignation. These are opportunists who see the police are busy dealing with the protesters and they say, well, here’s an opportunity to loot and to steal, and to cause mayhem. … It’s all illegal behavior, and we will not allow our cities in this state to be in chaos. Period. Public safety is rule one.”

Cuomo said by knowing the difference between protesters and looters it helps with the public perception about law enforcement officers’ difficult jobs.

“Police have to be there and be empowered to stop the looting and the chaos and the criminal behavior that people are trying to exploit this moment for their own selfish criminal purposes,” Cuomo said. “And the police have to be able to do their job, and the police have to be supported in being able to do their job.”

Reports circulated Wednesday morning saying Cuomo apologized to the NYPD for his comments on the department’s performance on Monday night, when countless businesses were destroyed and ransacked by looters. He said he spoke to Commissioner Dermot Shea and made it clear his issues with the police had to do with “management and deployment,” not with the officers, themselves, who he characterized as “the best” in the United States.

Though there were isolated cases of protesters clashing with police and looters attacking some businesses on Tuesday night, the vast majority of people out and about respected the 8 p.m. curfew, which will continue to be enforced until 5 a.m. through Sunday. Cuomo said the police performed admirably.

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“I want to applaud the local police. They have done a great job. I want to applaud the state police, who have done a great job. The protests were mainly peaceful all across the state. And I want to thank all involved for keeping it that way, protesters included. New York City last night was much better,” Cuomo said.

Coronavirus And Protesting

Cuomo reminded everyone that though the metrics are still suggesting the state is winning the war against COVID-19, the virus remains a very real threat.

“Remember, the COVID virus is still out there. So protest intelligently,” Cuomo said. “We’re united. We’re not black and white. We’re not upstate and downstate. We’re not red and blue. We are one state, one community, and we came together that way with discipline, in fighting this COVID with discipline, in having our right to protest, but doing it peacefully and in a way that respects law and order.”

He urged protesters to be “loving,” adding, “Yes, we have challenges, but we’ve shown how good we can be as a community, and how much we respect one another, and the sacrifice we’re willing to make for one another. Let’s keep that spirit that we developed over the past 95 days. Let’s keep that going, because that is pure magic. If we stay united and we stay loving, and we stay smart, we’re going to handle all of these issues and we’re going to be the better for it.”

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Cuomo said all of the significant hospitalization metrics continue to decline and on Tuesday there were just 49 new deaths, the lowest number since the state started recording statistics. But he was quick to remind everyone who may be demonstrating to wear masks and to the best of their ability practice social distancing.

“We’ve overcome the greatest challenge that this state has faced in my lifetime, with this COVID virus. This was the beast that we didn’t know if we could beat,” he said. “So far, we’ve beaten it. We have to stay smart, to make sure we control the beast.”

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