The brutal actions of NYPD officers “heightened tensions” during the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in New York City following the police killing of George Floyd, a new report from the city’s Department of Investigation concluded on Friday.
“NYPD use of force and crowd control tactics often failed to discriminate between lawful, peaceful protesters and unlawful actors, and contributed to the perception that officers were exercising force in some cases beyond what was necessary under the circumstances,” the 111-page report states.
The investigation focused on the overall behaviors of the police during this time, rather than individual officers who’ve been accused of using excessive and violent force. It found that officers were not adequately or recently trained in responding to protests of this size and scope, leading to “key errors” in the department’s response.
“Some police officers engaged in actions that were, at a minimum, unprofessional and, at worst, unjustified excessive force or abuse of authority,” the report states. “But the problems went beyond poor judgment or misconduct by some individual officers.”
The protests from May and June were often peaceful demonstrations against police brutality that ended in chaos, panic, and violence when a mass of police officers in riot gear confronted protesters while enforcing an 8 p.m. curfew.
Other officers were recorded acting violently toward protesters, including one who was charged with third-degree assault after he was caught on video appearing to throw a woman to the ground during a Brooklyn protest. The woman, Dounya Zayer, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officer and the NYPD, according to the City.
According to the report, police officers used control tactics that constituted “excessive enforcement,” including kettling, mass arrests, and the use of batons and pepper spray, particularly in their unequal and selective enforcement of curfews.
Mayor Bill de Blasio apologized for what the report found on Friday, saying he and the police department “have to do better.”
“I’m reflecting on what happened in May and June, and I look back with remorse,” de Blasio said in a video. “I wish I had done better.”
De Blasio defended the police force as an entity, blaming the most egregious abuses on individual officers, but said the department as a whole needs reform.
“The report says very clearly, look, some individual police officers did something wrong, and that’s not acceptable and has to be disciplined,” he said. “The vast majority of officers did their job and respected people’s rights.
“But then there were things that happened that were not about whether someone made an individual mistake,” he continued. “There were choices made, strategic choices, that weren’t good choices, it turns out, that ended up causing problems, and we have to come to grips with that. We need to train our police force differently.”
De Blasio has previously defended the NYPD’s behavior during the protests. In May, following an incident when two NYPD SUVs drove through a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn, knocking some to the ground, de Blasio upheld the officers’ actions.
“If you…or anyone else was in that police vehicle surrounded by people,” de Blasio said, “You would have had a really tough decision to make.”
In a statement on Friday, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said he had reviewed the report.
“In general terms the report captured the difficult period that took place in May/June of 2020 and presents 20 logical and thoughtful recommendations that I intend to incorporate into our future policy and training,” Shea said. “I’d like to thank DOI Commissioner Margaret Garnett and her entire staff for their professionalism during this process.”