The head of New York City’s largest police union on Thursday slammed the state attorney general’s lawsuit against the NYPD for its handling of protesters last year and said city leaders should instead be held accountable for ignoring the “criminals” who attacked officers with “bricks and firebombs.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the lawsuit earlier Thursday, saying it was meant to bring an end to the NYPD’s “pattern of repeatedly and blatantly violating the rights of New Yorkers.”
James called the rough treatment of protesters against racial injustice part of a longstanding pattern of abuse that stemmed from inadequate training, supervision and discipline.
Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch blamed a “failure of New York City’s leadership” for sending officers “to police unprecedented protests and violent riots with no plan, no strategy and no support.”
“They should be forced to answer for the resulting chaos, instead of pointing fingers at cops on the streets and ignoring the criminals who attacked us with bricks and firebombs,” Lynch said.
New York City – like other major metropolitan areas – was embroiled in violent protests last summer in response to the police killing of George Floyd. In the weeks following his death, police clashed with protesters on a nightly basis. Bricks, plastic bottles filled with cement, and even Molotov cocktails were thrown at police and police cruisers.
But James’ lawsuit includes dozens of examples of alleged misconduct perpetrated by officers, including the use of pepper spray and batons on protesters, trapping demonstrators with a technique called kettling and arresting medics and legal observers.
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James, a Democrat, was tasked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo with investigating whether NYPD officers used excessive force to quell unrest and enforce Mayor Bill de Blasio’s nightly curfew. She issued a preliminary report in July that cited a “clear breakdown of trust between police and the public.”
The first-term attorney general is seeking reforms including the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the NYPD’s policing tactics at future protests and a court order declaring that the policies and practices the department used during the protests were unlawful.
De Blasio said he met with James on Wednesday and that they share the goal of pushing for major police reforms, such as implementing recommendations in previous reports on the NYPD’s protest response.
But the Democratic mayor clarified that he did not agree a lawsuit was the solution.
“A court process and the added bureaucracy of a federal monitor will not speed up this work,” de Blasio said. “There is no time to waste and we will continue to press forward.”
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John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, said the department is committed to reform but that James’ lawsuit “doesn’t seem to meet the standard for a federal monitor, and it doesn’t seem to illustrate a pattern and practice” as required.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.