NY Leaders Tout Peaceful Protests as Arrests Mount Nightly

(Courthouse News photo/Josh Russell)

BOSTON (CN) — The morning after hundreds of New York City protestors were arrested, both the mayor and the governor insisted Friday that the crime situation in the city is improving.

The number of arrests increased over the previous night as police continued enforcing the 8 p.m. curfew that is in place until Sunday.

It was “another long and ugly night,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted that the protests were “overwhelmingly peaceful,” saying the city had beaten back what he called “systematic attempts to foster violence.”

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea addressed the public at Friday’s press conference as well, describing one group of protesters that he said had “put out posters advertising that they were going to burn things down, that they were going to injure cops, that they were going to cause mayhem.”

“That was the plan,” Shea said. “We intercepted them literally as they were bringing a gun and gasoline and weapons to the scene” at 149th Street.

Mayor de Blasio had spoken briefly at one Brooklyn protest Thursday afternoon, keeping his remarks short during a mostly unending chorus of boos.

Cuomo said New York City now has a better management plan and police are being adequately deployed. He said things have improved considerably since earlier in the week when there was “rampant criminality” and the city “was on the edge of chaos.”

Cuomo said he supports the 8 p.m. curfew, although several members of the city council have argued that enforcing the curfew is making things worse.

“This curfew is serving as a pretext for aggressive and violent confrontation of protesters by the police,” council member Mark Levine told reporters. “It is doing nothing to make our city more peaceful; it is doing the opposite.”

The mass arrests from enforcing the curfew are resulting in protesters being put into large holding pens. “We were then put in a hallway, about 100 of us at a time, shoulder to shoulder with no mask, no social distancing,” one protester told a local CBS affiliate.

Cuomo on Friday called the protests and the coronavirus “a dangerous combination, colliding crises compounding each other.”

Screenshot of New York Ciy Mayor Bill de Blasio in a virtual press conference Friday. A sign-language interpreter is pictured top-right.

De Blasio meanwhile echoed remarks that the state heard Thursday from the governor.

“If you have been at one of the protests, I want to strongly urge you to get tested,” the mayor said, touting the importance of social distancing and face coverings.

“We have to get back to that discipline,” de Blasio said.

Cuomo effusively praised the mayor of Buffalo for immediately suspending officers who were recorded shoving and injuring a 75-year-old man Thursday, with perhaps an implied suggestion that de Blasio has not acted quickly enough to respond to complaints of improper police conduct.

De Blasio promised that several NYPD officers would be suspended soon. He acknowledged that there was “structural racism” in the police department and said he would work to “remove officers who don’t belong on the force.”

The mayor also defended his restrained response to the protests and declared his opposition to tear gas and rubber bullets. “Militarization backfires consistently,” he said, adding “thank God” the city has kept out the National Guard.

Thursday marked the first day since the coronavirus crisis struck that the city had zero deaths from Covid-19, although new hospitalizations spiked to 84 yesterday from 48 the previous day.

Statewide there were 42 Covid-related deaths Thursday, “the lowest number since we started,” Cuomo said. He noted that eight weeks ago the daily death toll was about 800.

All told the number of confirmed deaths in the state is 24,133, although the real total is likely considerably higher because the state does not count “probable” cases that were never confirmed.

The mayor said the city is still on track to begin reopening on Monday. He announced that 32,000 construction sites will be able to reopen that day, subject to being inspected “constantly” for health and safety concerns. 

De Blasio announced plans to test at least 50,000 people a day. “I want every New Yorker to get tested,” he said. He announced a new mobile diagnostic testing program so “you can stay in your neighborhood and the testing trucks will come to you.”

Red tape is also being eliminated to let restaurants more quickly use open space for outdoor dining, de Blasio said. The MTA has installed no-touch payment scanners in half the city’s subway stations and has requested 60 miles of priority bus lanes.

New ambulatory health care centers will open by September in Elmhurst, Tremont and Bushwick, the mayor announced, saying they would focus on Covid-19 and serve tens of thousands of people a year. The centers are intended “to help with racial disparities,” he said.

One reporter pointed out to de Blasio that the city cannot legally discriminate in its response to protesters based on the content of the protest and asked whether the mayor was doing just that in allowing the George Floyd protests to continue in defiance of social distancing and other requirements. The mayor said, “I’m not a lawyer,” but that he strongly felt the Floyd protesters needed to be heard.

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