Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s police officials need to apologize to New Yorkers over charges they violated the civil rights of some demonstrators during last year’s often violent George Floyd protests.
“The people of the City of New York deserve an apology,” Cuomo said Friday after praising state Attorney General Letitia James for filing a federal lawsuit against the NYPD.
“I asked the Attorney General for the investigation after seeing the video of the protests and some of the actions and the uproar from many legal advocates in New York City,” Cuomo told reporters Friday.
““I applaud the attorney general for the thoroughness of her action and I applaud the attorney general for her courage,” he said.
“It’s hard to speak truth to power. It’s hard to speak truth to the NYPD. It’s hard to speak truth to the Mayor of the City of New York, but she did,” the governor said.
Cuomo’s sharp criticisms did not include any mention of the property damage, looting and fires the city and businesses endured from the protests, or the extreme anti-police rhetoric that extended to burning and smashing police cars and other vehicles.
City Hall declined to respond to Cuomo’s rant and instead pointed The Post to earlier statements de Blasio made about the James report and another critical examination of the how the NYPD policed the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
The NYPD and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cuomo’s rebuke. But Shea previously vowed to make changes in handling protests.
In his remarks, Cuomo singled out the NYPD’s controversial “kettling” tactics to pen protesters into a particular area.
““It is troubling on a fundamental level. And what’s most troubling about it is that it’s nothing new. …The kettling policy had been discussed for years. The people were told that it was over. And for years, people were saying it wasn’t over and there were lawsuits and there were videos.” the governor said.
“What’s most disturbing to me is that it only confirmed the worst – the worst information that people assumed, that they were being lied to and I think the people of the city deserve an apology, number one.”
Both Cuomo and James skirted the violence and looting that cops had to contain when the Floyd protest first erupted.
In fact, the mayor and the NYPD faced fierce criticism for initially being unprepared during he first days of protests that led to criminal looting and vandalism of scores of businesses. It came at a time when the mayor and City Council slashed $1 billion from the NYPD’s budget.
About 450 Big Apple businesses were looted or damaged from May 29 to June 9, according to the city Department of Small Business Services. Looters taking advantage of the protests trashed and vandalized trendy shopping districts such as Soho and Midtown along with mom-and-pop shops in retail corridors in The Bronx.
Cuomo was among those who rapped the police at the time for failing to stop the lawlessness and the city subsequently imposed a curfew.
But activists ignored curfews, yelled, spat and pushed cops. Then windows were smashed, stores looted, and New York City became a boarded-up wasteland.
In is own report 53-page report on the the protests, City Corporation Counsel James Johnson, unlike James, acknowledged both the impact of the pandemic and the presence of provocateurs embedded among the protesters, that police officers encountered.
His report noted that language and chants used at the protests — such as “How do you spell racist? N-Y-P-D” — “may have affected both NYPD officer behavior and the behavior of those attending the protests.”
Cuomo said the city’s leadership put rank-and-file cops — who were merely following orders “coming from the top” — in a difficult position during tense interactions with protesters.
“I think this is a very complicated, tense situation now that exists between the NYPD and the community. I think the tensions is destructive on everyone,” he said.
A spike in crime during the pandemic has only compounded the problem, according to the governor.
“You have a shooting crisis in New York City, you have a COVID crisis and you have a crisis in the increase in crime and shootings and the lack of solving these shootings. The tensions between the community and the police, the lack of trust; and the tensions between the police officer,” he said.
The governor noted that he has asked New York City and municipalities across the state to submit plans to overhaul police department practices by April 1, when Albany approves its budget.
PBA president Patrick Lynch praised Cuomo for holding de Blasio and NYPD brass — not the rank-and-file-cops he represents — accountable.
“The first step toward solving a problem is acknowledging it. Today, Gov. Cuomo acknowledged that police officers did not create New York City’s policing policies – City Hall and 1 Police Plaza did. He acknowledged that those policies are not only driving a wedge between cops and our communities – they are preventing us from keeping those communities safe,” Lynch said.
“But simply acknowledging a problem won’t solve it. Neither will scapegoating cops on the street or turning a blind eye to the actions of violent criminals. The public safety environment in New York City won’t improve until our leaders — at every level and in every branch of government — stop deflecting and grandstanding and start holding themselves accountable.”
James said since May 30, her office had received 1,300 complaints and pieces of evidence on alleged police misconduct from the protests and she heard from over 100 protesters during the 3-day public hearing in June.
The NYPD allegedly has a two-decades long history of “unconstitutional policing practices,” at large-scale protests, she said.
Yet, the city, the NYPD, the police commissioner, the mayor and the NYPD Chief of Department still failed to properly train the force to “prevent this misconduct,” her suit charged.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a Department of Investigation report that found the NYPD made “a number of key errors” that “likely escalated tensions” among protesters, who took to the streets over the police death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The 111-page report, released last month, also found that the NYPD’s crowd control practices “produced excessive enforcement that contributed to heightened tensions.”
The NYPD is already under federal oversight for its use of stop-and-frisk, stemming from a 2013 lawsuit. A judge in that case ruled that the practice was unconstitutional and a form of racial profiling.