New York City’s police department, the largest police force in the United States, is being sued by New York state Attorney General Letitia James for excessive force used during the Black Lives Matter protest of 2020. Throughout its history, the NYPD has been plagued with abuse complaints mostly arising from interactions with Black and Brown citizens, yet this is the first time the Empire State’s top prosecutor has sued the NYPD.
At the press conference announcing the civil suit, James stated since May her office has received more than 1,300 complaints and pieces of evidence stemming from the NYPD’s conduct. The disheartened AG called the NYPD’s actions unacceptable, but “nothing new.” The complaint, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, comes after a probe by the city’s Department of Investigation found that “NYPD’s use of force and certain crowd control tactics to respond to the Floyd protests produced excessive enforcement that contributed to heightened tensions.”
Several videos of NYPD actions went viral, including one in which a police cruiser was driven into a crowd, prompting outrage from numerous New York congressional lawmakers such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Protestor Andrew Smith recounted his encounter with an NYPD officer who pulled down his mask, which he was wearing due to the pandemic, and then pepper-sprayed him.
It is clear to me that the foundation of the police force in our legal system was not intended to recognize and protect the rights of Black people. My hands were high up in the air. I was no threat. I was not being aggressive or hostile, but somehow I was still assaulted by the police officer who is supposed to be a part of the police force sworn to protect and serve.
Mr. Smith’s harrowing encounter was not an isolated incident as James states, “We found that the NYPD arrested or detained hundreds of protesters, legal observers, medics and others without legal justification … in total, we found over 155 incidents of officers using excessive and unreasonable force against protesters.”
The civil suit calls for the NYPD to be given a court-appointed monitor to “eliminate ongoing unlawful policing practices and their effects.”