Southeast Queens elected officials are voicing strong support for Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit against the NYPD for excessive force and making false arrests during recent racial justice protests and for years prior, which has led to significant injuries and violated individuals’ basic right to peacefully protest.
The lawsuit specifically charges the NYPD, the City of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, and NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan with failing to address this long-standing pattern of abuse by not properly training, supervising and disciplining officers to prevent misconduct, despite knowledge and public admission that it violated the rights of New Yorkers.
“When police officers deploy brutal and aggressive tactics against New Yorkers, it undermines the safety of our communities and causes public distrust of law enforcement,” Congressman Gregory Meeks said. “Yet, even as protesters marched against the systemic and long-standing problems of excessive force in the department, those protesters were met with even more aggression. We must stamp out the use of aggressive force by officers within the NYPD. I applaud Attorney General James for investigating this matter and support this lawsuit to seek injunctive relief to address these long-standing problems and failures at the NYPD, the brunt of which has been borne by diverse communities of color like the ones I represent.”
In the complaint, James lays out dozens of examples of the NYPD’s blatant use of excessive force and other misconduct, since May 2020, including the indiscriminate, unjustified and repeated use of batons, pepper spray, bicycles and a crowd-control tactic known as “kettling” against peaceful protesters — all causing protesters significant physical harm.
NYPD officers also unlawfully arrested legal observers, medics and other workers performing essential services without probable cause and in direct violation of executive orders from Mayor de Blasio. The lawsuit seeks broad injunctive relief, including systemic reforms to the NYPD and the implementation of a monitor to oversee the NYPD’s policing tactics in future protests and to ensure compliance with the law.
“Police are there to enforce the law, not to break it or to be above it. If it is proven that they have systematically used excessive force, unlawful detention, kettling and improper tactics against peaceful protesters then they need to be held accountable, and the attorney general has an obligation to look into these allegations,” state Senator James Sanders said. “If police commit wrongdoing and are not held accountable then it undermines the community’s faith in them. During these protests, there were a lot of tough situations with a lot of moving parts and under those conditions strong leadership was necessary, but that does not excuse any police impropriety that may have taken place.”
Before Queens Borough President Donovan Richards was elected, he served as leader of the panel that has jurisdiction over the NYPD.
“New Yorkers watched police officers engage in unjust and inhumane behavior against the public time and time again,” Richards said. “There needs to be a culture shift at the New York Police Department, an idea I championed while I was chair of the New York City Council’s Public Safety Committee. Officers should not disgrace their badges, should let civilians peacefully protest and engage in their communities and realize that their actions have consequences. No one is above the law, including the New York Police Department. I thank New York Attorney General Letitia James for taking a stand and ensuring that the NYPD will be held accountable.”
The protests by Black Lives Matter and their allies took place this summer following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a number of other unarmed Black people. After several evenings of violent clashes between the NYPD and protesters, Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the Office of the Attorney General to conduct a civil investigation into police misconduct during the incidents.
“I applaud the attorney general’s diligent action with holding the NYPD accountable for participating in a pattern of excessive violence, lawlessness and recklessness at the expense of peaceful protesters and essential workers standing up for racial justice last summer,” Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson said. “These findings, while disturbing, are not surprising, and serve only to further inflame tensions between the police and community. I stand in full support of an external monitor to ensure increased oversight and true accountability of the NYPD.”