Corey, Ritchie Demand Independent Probe of NYPD Conduct During Protests

Police officers rough up protesters in Brooklyn on the evening of May 31.
Reuters/ Caitlin Ochs

A cop shoved a woman to the ground, sending her to the hospital. Another police officer pulled a Black man’s mask off his face and pepper-sprayed him. Officers drove an NYPD police vehicle directly into a crowd of people. One cop pulled his gun on an entire crowd. Even elected officials were pepper-sprayed.

City Council leaders have seen enough — and they’re taking matters into their own hands.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Oversight and Investigations Committee, are putting a check on Mayor Bill de Blasio, demanding an independent investigation into the NYPD’s actions during a weekend of protests — sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of cops in Minneapolis — that they charged included numerous instances of police brutality across New York City.

City Council steps up after mayor wavers following video recordings of police brutality

The pair of out gay city leaders are especially concerned about de Blasio’s plan to direct his corporation counsel, Jim Johnson, to conduct an investigation alongside Department of Investigations Commissioner Margaret Garnett.

“Any investigation by the City should be conducted independently, not in coordination with or under the supervision of the Corporation Counsel or any other office or agency directly controlled by the Mayor,” Johnson and Torres wrote in a May 31 letter to Garnett obtained by Gay City News.

The contents of the letter were first reported by the New York Daily News.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres want an independent investigation of NYPD conduct during protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.John McCarten/ New York City Council

Torres became increasingly frustrated with NYPD conduct over the weekend and begged the wavering mayor to take charge as videos of police abuse continued to proliferate on social media. In one tweet, Torres cited examples of the viral videos showing police abuse and wrote, “‘Appropriate’ actions according to our tone-deaf Mayor.”

Torres also warned on Twitter that “Calling it an ‘independent investigation’ does not make it so,” and said, “Corporation Counsel, a Mayoral official, has a conflict of interest that disqualifies it from investigating the NYPD. It would represent the NYPD in litigation. We cannot afford a sham investigation that has neither the appearance nor the substance of independence.”

Johnson and Torres are invoking Section 803 of the City Charter to direct the Department of Investigation to probe the handling of protest, independently of any role by the Corporation Counsel’s office. Under Section 803, the investigation would be led by the Department of Investigation’s Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD, which has investigatory authority and is independent of the police department.

Despite that independence, Johnson and Torres go on to warn that the inspector general’s investigation should not interfere with the probe underway by State Attorney General Letitia James, who has asked the public to submit video evidence of abuse to her office.

“In addition, any finding by the DOI related to criminal conduct should be referred to the appropriate prosecuting attorney,” Johnson and Torres’ letter stated.

The letter was representative of a broader pushback against the mayor, who was roundly blasted by a wide range of city leaders during a weekend of protests that followed a slew of violent racist incidents targeting Black Americans. Among the most recent examples, beyond the George killing in Minneapolis, are the police killing of Tony McDade, a transgender man, in Tallahassee, Florida, on May 27, and the daylight murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was simply jogging when he was mercilessly shot dead by white men in Georgia. Among other incidents that have compounded the recent rash of racism was a case —caught on viral video — of a white racist woman who called police on an out gay Black man, Christian Cooper, in Central Park after he asked her to leash her dog on May 25.

De Blasio received a barrage of criticism as the weekend progressed, which became exacerbated when he cast blame on protesters and refused to immediately take action against instances of abuse. By Sunday, May 31, there was a stark juxtaposition: While de Blasio hesitated on immediately punishing abusive cops, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta wasted no time, swiftly ordering the firing of officers who aggressively pulled innocent college students from their cars and used a taser on one individual.

Johnson, who marched in protests alongside his boyfriend Ernest J. Martin on May 31, has also called for more expedited reform, saying in a tweet that day, “This unrest on our streets will not end if new instances of police brutality happen each night. The mayor & NYPD need to rethink their entire strategy immediately.”

Instances of NYPD abuse were also condemned by other out gay lawmakers, including State Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Hoylman, who called on all five district attorneys to drop charges against protesters, and Councilmember Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn, who wrote in a tweet, “Forget @NYCMayor. The @NYCCouncil & State Legislature have the power of law and accountability. We must use it. Defund the NYPD. Repeal 50a. Give CCRB real teeth.” (Section 50-a of state law provides a shield against disclosure of police personnel performance information. The CCRB, or Civilian Complaint Review Board, has independent oversight of the NYPD.)

While Johnson on May 31 called for a seven percent budget cut across all city agencies due to a $9 billion deficit that was ballooned by the coronavirus pandemic, Menchaca was more specific about what he believes should be defunded.

“The @NYCMayor is wrong and late to the game,” Menchaca wrote. “This @NYCCouncil, led by the @BLACaucusNYC , will pass necessary municipal legislation and pass a balanced budget with a dramatic defunding of the NYPD. If anyone gets in our way, just don’t. Sit down; We got this.”

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