Police-Reform Goals Pushed Aside as NY Leaders Focus on Looting

Police officers arrests a large group of people at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Monday, as protesters took to the streets of New York City in response to the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, on May 25. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

MANHATTAN (CN) — New Yorkers heard markedly different responses from officials Tuesday on widespread looting that gripped parts of the city overnight.

While the governor said Tuesday that Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected his offer of support from the National Guard, de Blasio in turn begged for support from community leaders. 

“I am sick of people attacking the city of New York,” de Blasio said in his daily press conference Tuesday. “Because I’ve seen it so many times before with my own eyes … we will show you what we can do. Don’t disrespect the people in New York City.” 

New York for months has been the epicenter of the nation’s Covid-19 crisis, but de Blasio insisted Tuesday that days of civil unrest did not knock the city off course from a gradual reopening process slated to start next week.

Epidemiologists are not as optimistic, saying the large-scale protests against racism and police violence now in their sixth day are certain to bring more infections. As of Tuesday the city had 201,123 confirmed cases and 21,649 confirmed and presumed Covid-19 deaths. 

Phase 1 is supposed to begin Monday, June 8, at which time all buses and subways will return to “full, regular service,” the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in a Tuesday letter to de Blasio. The subway will still close daily between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. for disinfecting.

All New Yorkers can also now get tested for the virus, the mayor announced Tuesday afternoon in a press release. Previously testing was limited to those with symptoms, those who had been exposed to a known case, or those worked in a residential group setting like a homeless shelter or nursing home.

“Widespread testing holds the key to reopening our city safely” the mayor said in a statement Tuesday. “After months of fighting, we are finally able to say that every New Yorker who needs a test will get one.”

The protests themselves, sparked by the Memorial Day police killing of unarmed George Floyd in Minneapolis, have been largely peaceful — a fact de Blasio acknowledged Tuesday. There are at least six more protests scheduled for Tuesday, according to The New York Times. 

A chart from Governor Andrew Cuomo shows what he says are reasons for national unrest in the U.S. after a police killing in Minneapolis. A sign-language interpreter is pictured at right.

But substantial looting has also occurred, particularly in parts of the Bronx, SoHo, and Manhattan’s central business district. Both de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo focused heavily on those reports Tuesday, condemning such behavior. De Blasio blamed “a small group of criminals” for marring the protests. 

Unemployment in the state is at an astonishing 14.5% because of the coronavirus pandemic and could hit 22% in the city by the end of June, Comptroller Scott Stringer has predicted. In May, a reported 44% of people could not afford to pay their rent on time, indicating a looming eviction crisis. 

Cuomo criticized the NYPD and de Blasio on Tuesday, and even mused hypothetically about how a governor could displace a mayor. 

“I’m not happy with last night,” he said. “And the police did not do their job last night. But you have 38,000 NYPD. They have protected the city before in these situations. … They did not do it last night.

“Stop the looting,” Cuomo added, going on to reference comments by President Trump that cities should call up the National Guard to quell riots. 

Cuomo said he has offered to send state police and the National Guard to New York City but de Blasio refused. 

“I don’t think we’re at that point” of displacing de Blasio, Cuomo added. “That would be such a chaotic situation in the midst of an already chaotic situation. I don’t think that makes any sense.”

But he came back to the subject later, while maintaining he didn’t actually intend to take the action.

As governor, in a state of emergency, Cuomo could “take over the mayor’s job … displace the mayor,” he said.

Cuomo and de Blasio have clashed for years, whether about subway mismanagement or more recently when to shut down the city during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think that has been done in 100 years,” Cuomo said. “You know, technically the governor could remove a mayor, but you have to file charges. And then there’s an acting mayor — it’s a whole thing. I don’t know if it’s ever been done.”

If the mayor were to be unable to serve, second in line is the New York City public advocate. Public advocate is an elected position currently filled by Jumaane Williams. 

Cuomo did distinguish between the looting and the largely peaceful protests. 

“You have protesters who are outraged at what has happened,” he said, referring to Floyd’s death and its place in the nation’s painful saga of race relations. “And you have criminal activity, looting, extremist groups, who are using this moment for their own purposes and exploiting this movement and moment. Two very different things.” 

Cuomo did not expand on the so-called “extremist groups” he mentioned. In recent days politicians and police officials have made similar vague accusations without providing much solid evidence.

New York police officers arrest a person inside a Balenciaga store on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

He focused on what he said was a failure of the NYPD to protect property. 

“Use 38,000 people, and protect property,” he said, adding the word “people” only in the following sentence: “Use the police, protect property and people.” 

The looting has seemingly taken attention away from the protesters’ cause, as both Cuomo and de Blasio spent significant time Tuesday talking about property damage instead of about police reform. 

Cuomo did say Tuesday he would sign a repeal or reform of 50-A, the controversial section of New York State Civil Rights Law that shields police officers’ personnel records from public view. De Blasio’s administration has interpreted the law as prohibiting release of officers’ disciplinary records.

The NYPD came under fire for behavior by its officers over the weekend, including two police SUVs that drove into a crowd of protesters. 

“If those protesters had just gotten out of the way, we wouldn’t be talking about this situation,” de Blasio said over the weekend, though by Monday he was criticizing the officers. 

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said at de Blasio’s press conference Tuesday morning there were nearly 700 arrests in the city Monday night, even as jails continue to be hotspots for Covid-19 in the Big Apple and nationwide. 

New York state has documented 373,040 Covid-19 cases and 24,023 deaths, though the fatality number is likely low since the state only counts those virus deaths confirmed with testing. 

Local news source Gothamist caught NYPD officers saying “run them over” and “shoot those motherfuckers” over the citywide police scanner Monday evening. 

“Don’t put that over the air,” another officer said in response to the comment about shooting

A citywide curfew has been extended through Sunday and runs in New York City from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. An 11 p.m. curfew Monday night was the city’s first since 1943, after riots when a white police officer shot a black soldier in Harlem. 

“The purpose of their curfew is to help the police deal with the looters. The curfew is not about the protesters,” Cuomo said Tuesday.

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