Attorney General Letitia James is slated to hold an online public hearing Wednesday to examine clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators during recent protests spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The hearing is part of an ongoing investigation James launched in late May, bringing on as special advisers former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Barry Friedman, the founding director of the Policing Project at NYU Law School.
James, Lynch and Friedman will preside over the hearing, where more than 300 people have signed up to testify or have submitted written testimony. Among those invited to speak: Mayor Bill de Blasio, who turned down the opportunity, according to James’ office.
In a statement to THE CITY, James called protesting a “basic civil right” that she’s “committed to protecting and guarding.”
“This hearing is an opportunity for members of the public and those involved in confrontations to speak directly with our office and better inform our investigation. In our quest to seek answers and justice, nothing is more powerful than hearing directly from the people,” she said.
Among those slated to testify are dozens of alleged victims of police violence during protests that occurred all around New York in response to Floyd’s May 25 death. Elected officials, members of Congress and police reform advocates are also expected to speak out, according to James’ office.
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn), who was pepper-sprayed and handcuffed at a protest in Brooklyn late last month, told THE CITY he’s planning on telling his story at the hearing. He was one of two black legislators — the other was Assemblymember Diana Richardson (D-Crown Heights) — who were pepper-sprayed by law enforcement during the demonstrations.
“It’s important that New Yorkers begin to see an accounting for the abuses — known and unknown — that took place during peaceful protests,” Myrie said. “While what happened to me and my colleague was unfortunate, the silver lining is perhaps our profiles will lead to some accountability and that’s why I feel it’s important to publicly testify at this hearing.”
Mayor Won’t Testify
While de Blasio won’t be testifying, City Hall declined to say whether anyone from his administration would be attending.
The mayor received criticism for his handling of the protests and for instituting a citywide curfew with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which was intended to stop pockets of looting but was widely utilized by law enforcement to make mass arrests of demonstrators.
During the span of the six-night curfew, the NYPD issued more than 1,300 summonses, according to Gothamist. At a City Council oversight hearing on the NYPD last week, protesters described experiencing or witnessing what they characterized as unprovoked violence carried out by law enforcement.
It’s unclear whether Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, or other NYPD officials will be speaking Wednesday. Representatives for the department did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesman for the Police Benevolent Association of New York City told THE CITY that the union, which represents roughly 24,000 NYPD members, does plan on testifying at Wednesday’s hearing.
While James’ review initially began with the NYPD, the attorney general’s investigation is now statewide. Her office has also been asked to investigate a confrontation caught on video between Buffalo police and 75-year-old Martin Gugino, who was shoved by a pair of officers and cracked his head in the fall.
‘The Public Deserves Answers’
Cuomo announced that James’ office would be conducting the review of interactions between law enforcement and protesters on May 30, as videos and pictures emerged on social media showing police officers clubbing protesters and shoving them to the ground during the early days of Floyd demonstrations.
“The public deserves answers and they deserve accountability,” Cuomo said at the time.
A lot just popped off at the protest for George Floyd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Pepper spray, batons, and several arrests. pic.twitter.com/ZuciQA82fe— Jon Campbell (@j0ncampbell) May 29, 2020
James is scheduled to release a report by the end of June. While the findings may simply be informational, they could spur legislative action. The attorney general’s office also has the power to investigate and bring charges against individuals or organizations.
The Attorney General’s office declined to say how many complaints it has received, citing the ongoing investigation. But on Twitter, users have been tagging James’ office in videos of police and protestors clashing. The office has also been tweeting at users who post videos and photos of clashes between protestors and law enforcement, asking them to report them to the AG.
To date, the police watchdog Civilian Complaint Review Board has received more than 750 complaints against the NYPD in connection with 165 incidents related to the protests since May 29, a CCRB spokesperson said.