Hundreds Arrested, Dozens Of NYPD Officers Hurt As 3rd Day Of Protests Turns Violent

WCBS 880 Newsroom
May 31, 2020 - 11:40 am
New York City George Floyd Protest

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images


NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the New York National Guard was on standby as the state anticipated more George Floyd protests Sunday following hundreds of arrests and hours of unrest in New York City Saturday.

The governor said an additional 200 state police were heading to Rochester at the request of the county executive and mayor. There are 150 troopers heading to Buffalo as well.

“We expect additional protest tonight and we are preparing for such,” the governor said.

He said potential curfews would not be statewide but locally.

"There is no one size fits all here. Curfews work well in some cities. In some cities they can create additional issues," Cuomo said. "So that’s a case by case basis."

Cuomo said he understood why people were outraged by the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police, but he said violence wouldn’t accomplish anything.

“Burning down your own house never works and never makes sense,” Cuomo said. “It dishonors Mr. Floyd’s death. Mr. Floyd was not violent. Mr. Floyd was compliant. Mr. Floyd wasn’t even charged or accused of a violent crime. There was no violence. That’s what makes the killing more outrageous.”

“When you are violent it creates a scapegoat to shift the blame,” the governor said. “It allows the president of the United States to tweet about looting rather than murder by a police officer. It allows the federal government to politicize what’s going on.”

Cuomo called the protests “very, very difficult” for police but said that doesn’t excuse some of the actions by officers he’s seen on video.

“The police are in an impossible situation in many ways, but their behavior is everything. And I’ve seen those videos and those videos are truly disturbing. And some of the videos, frankly, are inexplicable to me,” the governor said.

He reiterated that he is having state Attorney General Letitia James look at the actions of police at the protests in an independent investigation.

“If that review looks at those videos and finds that there was improper police conduct, there will be ramifications,” Cuomo said. “That isn’t going to be a report that just sits on the shelf. This is a moment of reform.”

Hundreds of people were arrested as street protests spiraled into New York City’s worst day of unrest in decades Saturday despite Mayor Bill de Blasio's urgent pleas for calm.

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said there were between 300 and 350 arrests at Saturday night’s protest as the mayor condemned violent protests and said police were “exercising extraordinary restraint” in most cases.

Shea said most of the arrests were for minor offenses. He said over 30 NYPD members suffered non-serious injuries over the course of the night and that about 47 police vehicles were damaged.

The commissioner said most of the property damage and confrontations with police were in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan.

De Blasio called the protests, which in some cases led to vehicles being burned and stores being looted, a “very complex, ever-changing situation.”

“Thank god there was no loss of life. There were no major injuries,” de Blasio said. “There was some real property damage.”

The mayor said there was “tremendous restraint overall from the NYPD” given the circumstances. He said he saw numerous instances of bricks, bottles and other projectiles being thrown at officers.

“There are always going to be some incidences we don’t like,” de Blasio said. “But when you composite the whole day, thousands upon thousands of officers in an ever-changing situation, I saw a lot of restraint under very difficult circumstances.”

He also addressed “disturbing” instances “in terms of the way police handled things.” Among them was a video showing a police SUV lurching into a crowd of protesters.

“I didn’t like what I saw one bit,” de Blasio said of the video. “Clearly we need to do a full investigation and look at the actions of those officers and see what was done and why it was done and what could be done differently.”

But the mayor emphasized that the “situation was created by a group of protesters blocking and surrounding a police vehicle.”

“We need a full and impartial investigation, but we also have to be clear about the context,” the mayor said. “That was happening against the backdrop where police officers had been attacked before in the exact same situation.”

De Blasio said if there’s “discipline that needs to be meted out there will be.” He said some officers already face disciplinary action for their actions during the protests. He said he hadn't seen the video of an NYPD officer pulling down a protester's mask and pepper-spraying him.

The mayor said most of the protesters were peaceful and that many of the ones causing problems “associate with the anarchist movement.”

“In this case, we got a lot of people who are organized. They plan together online. They have very explicit rules,” de Blasio said. “Some come from outside the city, some are from inside the city.”

“We do know that there is an explicit agenda of violence, and it does not conform with the history of this city in which we have always honored nonviolent protests,” de Blasio said.

The mayor said he spoke with elected officials in the African American community and that there is “a growing concern that some are attempting to speak in their name and for their community in a way that is counterproductive.”

But De Blasio said in the wake of George Floyd’s death it’s clear “there are changes we have to make, there are changes we will make in this city and should make in this country.”

The mayor said he wants to work with the governor and the state Legislature to repeal 50-a, a police secrecy law, in June. He said he also wants to identify officers who are “not cut out for the police force.”

“We need to make sure that anybody who should not be a police officer is not a police officer,” de Blasio said.

The mayor said emphasized that the city has already made major police reforms in recent years. "We've changed the reality between police and community in many, many ways," he said.

“But we are not where we need to be, period,” de Blasio said. "Things must change in the culture of policing."

De Blasio said that despite the unrest, there was no plan for a curfew, something many other cities have implemented. He said the restraint of the NYPD and the positive actions of many community leaders mean a curfew are unnecessary.

“No plan for a curfew, and I want to emphasize this,” the mayor said. “I’ve been talking with mayors around the country, every place is different. This is a place with a strong tradition of peaceful protest and a strong tradition of the NYPD being able to manage peaceful protest.”

The mayor also said there were no plans to bring in outside military or police forces.

"The NYPD knows how to keep the people of New York City safe," de Blasio said. "If you bring in outside military or police forces, you actually endanger the safety and security of New Yorkers, because they are not trained to handle the realities of our streets and our communities. So right now as imperfect as it is, I think we’re on the path to keep this place safe and move us forward.”

A day that began with mostly peaceful marches through Harlem, around Union Square and through neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens descended into chaos as night fell Saturday.

Demonstrators smashed windows, hurled objects at officers, sprayed them with paint, set numerous fires, torched and smashed police vehicles and blocked roads with garbage and wreckage.

In numerous flare-ups, officers sprayed crowds with chemicals. A number of protesters were seen being placed in handcuffs, but it wasn't immediately clear how many had been arrested Saturday.

In Flatbush, Brooklyn, videos posted to social media showed a group of protesters standing behind a barricade throwing items at an NYPD vehicle before it lurched forward, sending several people to the ground. It was unclear whether anyone was hurt. A second police vehicle was also surrounded by protesters who started banging on the driver's side window as it tried to make its way past the crowd.

CBS2 reports at least 320 arrests. The NYPD says 33 officers were hurt throughout the city, with at least 47 vehicles damaged by demonstrators. 

Speaking at a news conference in Brooklyn shortly before midnight, Mayor de Blasio said the protesters who converged on the police vehicle did the wrong thing and created an untenable situation.

"I'm not going to blame officers who are trying to deal with an absolutely impossible situation," the mayor said. "I wish the officers had found a different approach, but let's begin at the beginning. The protesters in that video did the wrong thing to surround that police car, period."

De Blasio said it's inappropriate for protesters to surround a police vehicle and threaten officers.

"That's wrong on its face, and that hasn't happened in the history of protest in this city. I've been watching protests for decades, people don't do that, and so it's clear that a different element has come into play here who are trying to hurt police officers and trying to damage their vehicles, and if a police officer is in that situation, they have to get out of that situation," de Blasio said. "The video was upsetting, and I wish the officers hadn't done that, but I also understood that they didn't start the situation, the situation was started by a group of protesters converging on a police vehicle, attacking that vehicle. It's unacceptable. So the officers have to get out of that situation."

De Blasio said Saturday's protests were peaceful for the most part, with the exception of a few "who chose to commit acts of violence who are here only, unfortunately, to agitate and attack those who protect us — our police officers." 

"Those people do not represent the values of New York City," the mayor said. "What I want to see is that we get these violent protesters off the streets because every day people are not doing this, they just don't do this to police officers, they don't do it to police vehicles. That's just the fact, we've seen it time and time again what real protest looks like in New York City, it does not look like this."

He addressed peaceful protesters saying that their message has been heard "loud and clear."

"If you went out peacefully to make a point about the need for change, you have been heard and change is coming in this city, I have no doubt about that. It's time to go home so we can all move forward," de Blasio said. "But those who are out there simply to create violence, those who are out there to express hatred towards our police officers, we won't tolerate that. If you're out there to commit an act of violence, you're going to get arrested tonight."

The mayor said the NYPD had a difficult day and some officers had been put in dangerous situations. 

"That's not the protest reality and history that we believe in in this city," de Blasio said. "We believe in peaceful protest, we believe in civil disobedience, we believe in people exercising their democratic rights, but not attacking police officers, not attacking communities."

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said he was proud of his officers "for the way you’ve comported yourselves in the face of such persistent danger, disrespect, and denigration."

"What we saw in New York City last night and the night before was not about peaceful protest of any kind," Shea said. "What it was, quite frankly, was a mob bent solely on taking advantage of a moment in American history, to co-opt the cause of equality that we all must uphold, to intentionally inflict chaos, mayhem, and injury just for the sake of doing so."

The protests took place across all five boroughs, but Manhattan and Brooklyn appeared to have the largest demonstrations.

A large crowd marched through Harlem and chanted outside a police precinct. NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan told WCBS 880 that some protesters were arrested for blocking traffic on the FDR Drive. 

Protesters were later seen surrounding NYPD Police Service Area 4 in the East Village.

There were also protesters seen chanting "I can't breathe" on 14th Street near Union Square.

The NYPD shut down a large rally in Times Square, where there were hundreds of protesters on the streets. There appeared to be at least several arrests at the protest in Midtown.

Hundreds more protesters also descended on the streets around Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Video shows some skirmishes with NYPD officers in the area as a helicopter flies overhead.

“This is bigger than the pandemic,” said Meryl Makielski, a white woman who lives in Brooklyn and was holding a sign saying “Black Lives Matter” on one side and “White silence is violence” on the other. “The mistakes that are happening are not mistakes. They’re repeated violent terrorist offenses and people need to stop killing black people. Cops seem as though they’ve been trained to do so.”

At one point protesters brought traffic to a halt on the Brooklyn Bridge, closing all Brooklyn-bound lanes, and at least one police cruiser was set on fire on Flatbush.

There was also a large protest held Saturday in Newark, where hundreds marched through the streets near City Hall.

Saturday's protests, among many around the country over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota, appeared to have gotten off to a peaceful start, a day after several thousand people faced off with a force of officers on the streets around the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

De Blasio, a Democrat, expressed solidarity with demonstrators upset about police brutality, but promised an independent review of the Friday night disaster in which both protesters and police officers committed acts of violence. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he had asked the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, to lead an inquiry and make a public report.

The mayor said he was upset by videos of the confrontations “where protesters were handled very violently” by police and by reports that a state senator and member of the state Assembly were among the people sprayed with irritating chemicals by officers.

“That’s unacceptable, and we need to understand exactly why that happened,” the mayor said.

But he also said a small number of protesters had come “with an agenda of violence and incitement, and they meant to harm police officers, and they did harm police officers.”

Monahan said the violence was orchestrated by out-of-towners.

"This was a very organized attack on police officers that was committed by people not from these communities, not from New York. A lot of outside instigators who were there solely for one reason — to fight the police," Monahan said. "This is out of towners, people not part of the communities, people that are coming in to our neighborhoods, into our communities, and causing mayhem."

Many people in the crowd threw bottles at police. A mob set fire to a police van and battered several other police cruisers with clubs.

“They were subjected to horrible, vile things last night,” de Blasio said of the police.

NYC protest
David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

One demonstrator, Samantha Shader, 27, of Catskill, New York, was arrested on an attempted murder charge after police said she tossed a homemade firebomb at a vehicle occupied by several officers. The device did not ignite and the officers were unharmed, police said. Police also arrested Darian Shader, 21, on charges of resisting arrest and obstructing police.

They were in custody Saturday and it wasn’t immediately clear whether lawyers had been appointed to represent them.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said more than 200 people were arrested and multiple officers were injured, including one who lost a tooth.

Asked to comment on videos that showed officers shoving peaceful protesters to the ground and hitting people with batons, Shea said those acts would be investigated.

But, he said, “It is very hard to practice de-escalation when there is a brick being thrown at your head.”

“It is by the grace of God that we don’t have dead officers today,” he said.

Protests resumed in the city at several locations Saturday afternoon, all in defiance of a statewide ban on gatherings imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The Rev. Al Sharpton addressed several hundred people gathered in Staten Island at the spot where Eric Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer in 2014. He was accompanied by Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr. The crowd held a peaceful demonstration outside the local police precinct.

Sharpton noted that George Floyd, who died Monday in Minneapolis after an officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, had also fallen unconscious gasping for air.

“Right at this spot is where we heard Eric Garner say what six years later was said by George: I can’t breathe.”

Cuomo, speaking in the Bronx, noted that Floyd’s death was just the latest in a long list of similar deaths, and he said he shared in the outrage over “this fundamental injustice.”

“But violence is not the answer. It never is the answer,” he said. “The violence obscures the righteousness of the message and the mission.”

De Blasio suggested that some of the anger in New York was also related to a recent confrontation in Central Park, where a white woman called police to falsely report that she was being threatened by a black bird watcher, who had asked that she leash her dog.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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