Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea blamed both officers and civilians after an initially peaceful protest in Brooklyn turned violent Friday night.
“We have spent years changing the nature of policing in the city and we have much, much more to do, we all know that,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio during a press conference Saturday morning. “Last night was a difficult and complex situation.”
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center Friday afternoon, following a peaceful protest in Manhattan’s Foley Square, to protest the killing of George Floyd, a Black 46-year-old Minneapolis man who died on Monday in police custody. The Brooklyn demonstration was initially peaceful until a skirmish between officers and protesters ending baton beatings and pepper spray.
Protesters eventually left Barclays and marched throughout neighboring parts of Brooklyn. Some tried to smash police van windows, threw rocks at officers, rocked a police van and set another on fire.
Police responded with batons, pepper spray and arrests with some officers needlessly shoving protesters, as viral cell phone video shows. One officer pushed a small female protester so hard to the ground that she suffered a seizure after hitting her head on the pavement. Another cop in a police vehicle, swung their car door open while driving past a crowd of protesters knocking a demonstrator nearly off their feet.
“It’s very difficult to practice de-escalation when you’re having a brick thrown at you,” Shea told reporters Saturday. “This was a volatile and dangerous situation, and in any and all violence we denounce. We can do better than this, and we must.”
More than 3,000 people took part in protests on Friday afternoon and evening, according to Shea. Officers arrested over 200 protesters, some of whom were from outside of the city; the exact number of out-of-towners, however, remains unclear.
Shea described the out-of-town protesters as coming into the city for the sole purpose of committing violence.
Although de Blasio was sympathetic towards demonstrators and their cause, he also blamed those who incited clashes with officers. He said he recognized that some demonstrators went to Barclays to protest peacefully, but stated that others seemed to come there with cruel intentions.
“It’s the NYPD’s obligation to foster peace and to protect anyone and to avoid anything that allows further violence occur, but that means also recognizing that any aggressive act towards a peaceful protest sends the wrong message, it’s wrong in every way and it sets us back,”said de Blasio.
“Any protester who tries to take the humanity away from a police officer and devalue them just because they are a public servant is no better than the racists who devalue people of color and particularly Black men in America,” he added.
Attorney General Leticia James will lead an independent review of Friday’s police and protester interactions, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday.
This story first appeared on amny.com.