Photo by Statia Grossman
Jun 28, 2021
Brooklyn lawmakers sue NYPD, saying they were beaten at BLM protest
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Diana Richardson are the latest to sue the NYPD for its response to last summer's protests
Two New York State legislators are suing the New York Police Department arguing that they were surrounded, hit by police bicycles, and pepper sprayed at a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Barclays Center.
The suit, levied by State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Diana Richardson, both of whom represent Brooklyn districts, is the latest in a growing list of legal actions taken against the NYPD that criticizes the police department’s response to Black Lives Matter protests that gripped New York after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
The suit states that, just before 8 p.m. on May 29, 2020, officers announced they would be moving in on the crowd to shut the protest down. “The NYPD officers then encircled the group, making it impossible for them to leave,” according to the suit. The officers wielded “their department-issued bikes as weapons, officers rammed Senator Myrie, Assemblywoman Richardson and other protestors with their bike wheels over and over again.”
The police then pepper sprayed both lawmakers directly in the face and while Myrie was screaming in pain he was handcuffed with zip ties and brought to a line of arrested protestors before being released once officers realized he was an elected official. Richardson fell to the ground after being pepper sprayed and was pulled to the side by other demonstrators who quickly began pouring water and milk into her eyes. Both lawmakers were wearing shirts that identified them by name as elected officials and, according to the suit, Myrie texted NYPD Chief Jeffrey B. Maddrey prior to the protest to alert him that she would be there peacefully.
The NYPD arrested more than 2,000 protestors between May 28 and June 7 and dozens of videos of police officers hitting, pushing, and attacking seemingly peaceful protestors flooded the internet fomenting even more outrage against the police. An independent report from the NYPD Department of Investigation concluded that at times some police officers used aggressive tactics while many patrol officers who were deployed to control crowds lacked the adequate training necessary. In June 2020, NYPD Commissioner Dermont F. Shea argued that “the officers used an incredible amount of restraint in terms of allowing people to vent.”
Over the course of the ensuing months the NYPD has been sued by New York Attorney General Lettita James, is facing a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of protestors, and has been the subject of preliminary court papers filed by more than 400 individual protestors. All told, the city could potentially be ordered to pay out millions of dollars in damages to those affected by police violence in 2020, including Myrie and Richardson. Their lawsuit names the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, and Chief of Department Rodney Harrison as defendants.
Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city Law Department, said that they would review the claims but asserted that “The NYPD has a longstanding track record of successfully protecting the right of the public to protest while ensuring public safety, and is committed to strengthening those efforts.”
Myrie and Richardson, however, maintain that their experience “was a painful and humiliating reminder that following the rules and complying with police orders does not protect Black Americans from police brutality, not even Black Americans who have ascended to elected office.”
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