Protest Over George Floyd's Death Turns Violent; Hundreds Arrested, NY AG Investigating

Mack Rosenberg
May 30, 2020 - 1:45 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio said he’s launching an independent review “of the events of last night” after protests over the death of George Floyd—an unarmed black man in police custody in Minneapolis—led to violence and numerous arrests in Brooklyn.

“I want to know exactly what happened, why it happened and what can be done better,” the mayor said. “I want there to be accountability for anyone, whatever their status.”

De Blasio said "last night was a difficult complex situation," adding that peaceful protesters had legitimate reasons to protest that were overshadowed by the actions of a few "who came there obviously to incite acts of violence."

Responding to videos showing NYPD officers acting violently towards protesters and reports that at least two elected officials were among people pepper sprayed, de Blasio said, "We have to do better."

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

But de Blasio added some protesters had come “with an agenda of violence and incitement, and they meant to harm police officers, and they did harm police officers.”

NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan told WCBS 880 that 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 into our neighborhoods, into our communities, and causing mayhem."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who spoke minutes after de Blasio Saturday, said he asked New York state Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the "disturbing violent clashes" between police and protesters on Friday night.

"I'm asking Attorney General James to review all the actions and procedures that were used last night, because the public deserves answers and they deserve accountability," Cuomo said at his daily coronavirus briefing.

Cuomo said he spoke with de Blasio about the violence.

"He wants an independent review of what happened yesterday," Cuomo said. "I agree and we agree that the attorney general is an independently elected official in the state of New York."

Cuomo said he wants the findings of James' independent review back in 30 days. It will review "police procedures" as well as "the crowd's actions."

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, who joined de Blasio on Saturday, called videos of some police behavior "disturbing" and said an internal investigation within the department had already been launched.

The commissioner said a protest of about 3,000 people splintered into smaller protests Friday night.

He said there were over 200 arrests and multiple officers injured.

One of the arrests was for the attempted murder of four police officers who were in a marked police van. Samantha Shader, 27, of Catskill, New York, was arrested on an attempted murder charge after police said she tossed the 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.

Shea said a firearm and brass knuckles were recovered from protesters and that countless bricks and other items were thrown at police officers.

Monahan said he was at the Barclays Center for the entire night called it "one of the most chaotic scenes I've ever been involved with."

"There were literally thousands of bottles, bleach, batteries, rocks thrown at the police officers," Monahan said. "At every attempt we made to disperse the crowds they didn't want to leave and they kept on throwing things at the police for hours and hours. We went in, we had to make numerous arrests and we kept trying to get people out of the area. It took a long time, it was very chaotic for a long, long time there last night."

The commissioner said there were a number of protests planned for Saturday "that are possibly going to take off." He said some people were coming from out of town to cause problems.

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died Monday after a white officer was filmed kneeling on his neck for several minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Protesters holding signs reading "Protect Black Lives" gathered around 4 p.m. Friday in Manhattan's Foley Square and marched the short distance south to 1 Police Plaza, chanting "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" and "Black Lives Matter."

WCBS 880's Mack Rosenberg reported the protesters were there for about five minutes before making their way back up north to be met by several hundred more supporters who had flooded Foley Square. The crowd later made its way over the Brooklyn Bridge for another rally at Barclays Center.

RELATED: Protests, Some Violent, Spread In Wake Of George Floyd Death

Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, attended the protest in Foley Square and told Rosenberg that Floyd saying the words “I can’t breathe” are like “echoes from the grave.” Her son uttered those same words before he died in police custody six years ago. Garner died on July 17, 2014, after an officer put him in a chokehold as he was being arrested for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island street. Garner's mother said Floyd's death has opened up old wounds.

The crowd in Brooklyn continued the chants and demonstrations, and clashes with police continued throughout the evening. Some officers could be seen watching the crowd from on top of the subway station outside the Barclays Center.

The protest started off peacefully, but as tensions grew it took a violent turn. There were several moments of struggle, as some in the crowd pushed against metal barricades and police pushed back. Water bottles were flung at officers, and in return police sprayed an eye-irritating chemical at the crowd multiple times before clearing the plaza.

Assemblywoman Diana Richardson and Sen. Zellnor Myrie, both lawmakers of color, reported they were pepper sprayed and handcuffed while peacefully protesting.

"Pepper spray was utilized to move the grounds back for the officers' safety," Monahan said. "I got hit with pepper spray, I had it in my eyes, most of my cops had it. Pepper spray was coming from both sides of the aisle. Bleach was coming from them. There was a lot of things being thrown at my cops. It was very dangerous and it had to be cleared before we got someone seriously injured."

Video posted to social media showed officers using batons as they took people into custody. 

Later in the evening, demonstrators set a police van ablaze on Dekalb Avenue, then scrawled graffiti across its charred hulk and set it on fire a second time.

Another vehicle had been vandalized.

Police could also be seen standing guard near the 88th Precinct, where ABC7 reported the windows and door of the police station had been vandalized. Some protesters were arrested after reportedly trying to break into another police station in in Bedford Stuyvesant.

De Blasio went to Brooklyn Friday night to deescalate the situation, his press secretary tweeted.

The mayor later tweeted, "We have a long night ahead of us in Brooklyn. Our sole focus is deescalating this situation and getting people home safe. There will be a full review of what happened tonight. We don’t ever want to see another night like this."

Dozens of protesters have been arrested and several officers were injured. Their injuries are said not to be life-threatening.

During a news conference Friday afternoon, de Blasio pleaded for calm.

"Please remember how important it is to protest peacefully," de Blasio said. "Please remember that we're in the middle of a pandemic, we have to do all we can to protect each other."

He addressed protesters directly saying, "If you are angry with the governement, if you are angry with the elected leaders, direct that anger to all of us because if we haven't done enough, then we are the ones who should be held responsible, but the police officer in front of you is a working man or woman just trying to do their job — they did not create the policies, they did not create the pain, they did not the create the contradictions of our society that we need to resolve. Take your anger out on those who hold the power, wherever it may reside."

"Our goal is to allow people to peacefully assemble," Commissioner Shea said. "Please exercise caution, please let's do this safely, let's come together, not only as a city, but as a country to face these issues."

The protest comes a day after a demonstration in Union Square on Thursday ended with several officers injured and dozens of protesters in handcuffs.

NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said Friday morning that 72 people were arrested, including five for felony assault on a police officer.

There were 33 misdemeanor arrests, including for obstruction and resisting arrest. The other 34 for arrests were mainly for disorderly conducet and blocking streets, Monahan said.

Thursday's protest which started in Union Square began peacefully, but there was a lot of anger directed toward NYPD officers. Demonstrators on the move to City Hall spat on officers and threw traffic cones, metal garbage cans and bottles at members of the NYPD.

Monahan said one officer suffered a concussion after he was hit with a trash can. A sergeant also suffered a concussion after he was thrown to the ground.

A police inspector was punched in the face and one person tried to take a gun away from an NYPD captain, Monahan said.

George Floyd protest in Union Square
Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

At least one person was reportedly arrested for carrying some sort of switchblade, according to police.

Photos from the scene showed protesters wearing facial coverings amid the coronavirus pandemic, holding signs that read “Stop Killing Our Black & Brown Brothers & Sisters” and “No Lives Matter Until Black Lives Matter.” 

There was a heavy NYPD presence in response to the protest and several MTA buses were rerouted away from the scene. 

Monahan said several protesters blocked traffic. "At that point we had to go in and make arrests of individuals that were causing that mayhem," Monahan told PIX11.

Monahan said the NYPD has spent years focused on community policing to prevent violent acts.

"This is an incident that happens in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a cop who's basically caused 800,000 law enforcement officers across the country to have to pay the price for his actions," Monahan said.

George Floyd protest in Union Square
Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio reacted to Floyd's death saying he was horrified by the incident.

"If George was white, he would be alive right now," the mayor tweeted. "This nation has devalued the lives of Black men for centuries. It has to end. And it will only end when there are consequences for those who do wrong. These officers need to be charged immediately."

Asked about the “irony" of his comments for the prosecution of Minneapolis officers when it took five years for due process to play out in the Eric Garner case the mayor said, “The fact is I think the authorities in Minneapolis were right to say this is something that needed to be acted on immediately. And I’ve said from this point on in the City of New York we’re going to act immediately as well. This kind of thing just can’t happen.”

“The bottom line here is, I’ve been really clear about the fact we made a mistake, I made a mistake in believing the U.S. Department of Justice would do its job. And I will be very blunt and clear about that. When the city took over, there was due process, there was a trial, our police commissioner made a decision. It was the right decision. The thing I feel very clearly, in retrospect we should have ignored the Department of Justice, because what they did was unconscionable in not acting, and just moved ahead. And that’s what we will do from now on, absolutely," he went on to say.

In Minneapolis, stores were set ablaze and officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters over days of violent demonstrations. Cheering protesters torched a Minneapolis police station Thursday night. 

Gov. Tim Walz activated the Minnesota National Guard on Thursday and declared a state of emergency in Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding areas. 

While he said he supported peaceful demonstrations in response to the death, he said the destruction that occurred overnight was alarming and authorities were called in to keep the peace. 

Four Minneapolis police officers were fired on Wednesday. The officer seen on video kneeling on Floyd's neck has been arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter.

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