New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the city of New York on Thursday, naming Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan and police commissioner Dermot Shea in relation to a string of civil rights violations spurred from the months of Black Lives Matter protests held across the city over the past year.
“As the demonstrations continued, the very thing being protested — aggressive actions of law enforcement — was on public display,” James said at a news conference on Thursday.
In the suit, the New York attorney general petitions for the installation of a monitor to oversee the NYPD, and points to repeated instances of violence enacted by the department in response to the demonstrations in 2020 from February to December.
“There is no question that the NYPD engaged in a pattern of excessive, brutal, and unlawful force against peaceful protesters,” said Attorney General James in a released statement. “Over the past few months, the NYPD has repeatedly and blatantly violated the rights of New Yorkers, inflicting significant physical and psychological harm and leading to great distrust in law enforcement. With today’s lawsuit, this longstanding pattern of brutal and illegal force ends. No one is above the law — not even the individuals charged with enforcing it.”
Since the onset of the pandemic New Yorkers have taken to the streets to protest the sudden and violent deaths of Black community members, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Additional protests were also held to hold space for the violence perpetrated against like Black trans persons who are killed at the hands of their community members and the police.
But what ensued in response from local law enforcement was the preparation of violence, through the use of excessive force. Videos captured officers driving department vehicles into droves of protesters, using physical force with batons and hand-to-body contact to slam them to the pavement. Multiple accounts of arrests without probable cause were also noted in the suit.
Instead city officials aided to tensions by setting city-wide curfews and focusing on the explosion of rage due to the incessant state-sanctioned murders. The same tactics were taken across the country as uprisings sprung up in solidarity with the victims.
Last year New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tasked James with investigating the police department’s handling of protests which ramped up after Floyd’s death.
James said her office uncovered “an egregious abuse of police power, rampant excessive use of force and leadership unable and unwilling to stop it.”
In addition to a monitoring system James is filing a court order to declare the practices and policies used by the NYPD be deemed unlawful. James’ suit follows actions taken by civil rights watchdog groups the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Legal Aid Society who sued the NYPD in October on behalf of victims brutalized by the police.
de Blasio said he met with James on Wednesday to discuss steps moving forward, but disagreed with the filing of the lawsuit.
“A court process and the added bureaucracy of a federal monitor will not speed up this work,” de Blasio stated. “There is no time to waste and we will continue to press forward.”
To read the full suit click here.