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Bill de Blasio

Mayor Promises to Investigate Police Use of Deadly Force — As Police Commissioner Vows Counter Investigation Against Protesters

1:04 PM EDT on May 31, 2020

Mayor de Blasio with Police Commissioner Dermot Shea in a file photo. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor de Blasio said on Sunday that he was displeased by officers who drove their squad cars into protesters on Saturday night and has assigned two City Hall insiders to investigate the excessive use of force — even as NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea vowed to hunt down the "mob" that, he said, ambushed and put his officers' "lives at risk."

The conflicting response was the lone show of discord between the mayor and the city's top cop in the aftermath of Saturday's dangerous and repeated use of NYPD squad cars amid a surge of protesters. The mayor, vowing an investigation, put the main onus on the protesters for allegedly putting cops in a situation of fear, but the police commissioner's voice hardened when he discussed what he plans to do:

"No one likes what they saw with that video and I certainly didn't. ... But I look at it fairly and I urge you to also: There are protests and there are mobs," Shea said. "I saw something closer to a mob. A protest does not involve surrounding and ambushing a marked police car and putting my officers and my detectives lives at risk. ... I have the best detectives in the world. And they are going to be looking to identify anyone from that incident ... that is systematically looking to ambush my police officers, throw lit materials on the car and put them in harm's way."

The videos in question do not suggest an ambush. But it is clear that Shea's officers reacted out of fear and aggression, which de Blasio vowed to investigate.

The mayor repeatedly said he was appalled by the videos of police officers using their squad car in a reckless manner to disperse and even injure protesters — and said there would be immediate and transparent discipline.

"I did not like what I saw one bit," the mayor said on Sunday. "I don't want to see it ever again. We need to do a full investigation and look at the actions of those officers and see what was done and why it was done and what could be done differently. ... We need to more to take our current approach to risk management which identifies that there are officers who are not cut out for the police force. That work needs to be amplified and speeded up and intensified. We need to make sure that anybody who should not be a police officer is not a police officer."

But, like his police commissioner, the mayor offered many qualifiers that repeatedly blamed protesters who are outraged at ongoing police violence and killings, most recently the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. The mayor said some of the protesters were outside agitators — and he promised to provide evidence of that claim soon.

"I want to emphasize that the situation [on the videos] was created by a group of protesters blocking and surrounding a police vehicle. ... What we are seeing a different kind of protest. It is a small number of people. It is well organized [and] associated with the anarchist movement [with] an explicit agenda of violence."

It's clear that the mayor's shift in blame is not going to be received very well. Earlier in the day, Shea had tweeted a lengthy open letter in support of his officers — which was followed six minutes later by a terse takedown by City Council Member Danny Dromm of Queens.

"Do you believe this shit?" Dromm tweeted:

That "shit" may hit the fan at some point: The mayor has appointed two of his own commissioners — Corporation Counsel Jim Johnson and Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett — to investigate the police response. In a brief statement, Garnett indicated that her focus will be mostly on the police response rather than, as the mayor and Shea demanded, a fuller look at the protesters.

"Our city is in crisis," she said. "The vast majority of protesters were peaceful and the vast majority of police action was appropriate. But I want to be clear that we rightly have a higher standard for the police who are given tremendous power ... and we rely on to deal appropriately."

The pair is expected to return with findings in June — which starts tomorrow.

The mayor certainly admitted many times on Sunday that he and the NYPD need to "do more" to protect and serve all New Yorkers with respect. But he defiantly pushed back — like Shea, his voice hardened and even cracked at one moment — at the notion that he is afraid to truly reform the NYPD because its NYPD's rank-and-file officers and unions openly detest him.

"I do not have fear or I wouldn't be in this job," he said in response to Daily News reporter Shant Shahrigian's question. "For god's sakes. come on. ... Anyone with eyes to see knows that I have made my views clear on the need to change the NYPD and have often incurred the wrath of certain union leaders and haven't changed my views at all — sorry. I haven't changed at all. We are changing and reforming the NYPD."

He dismissed the reporter's question as coming from a "world where there are easy lines."

"It's not like that," the mayor said. "Our police officers are working men and women who should not be treated this way. Period. ... You don't treat people that way! If you're going to peacefully protest and any NYPD officer doesn't appreciate that, there are going to be disciplinary action.  ... But don't miss for a moment my sympathy for working men and women wh are out there trying to protect the peace and exercising extraordinary restraint. I'm sorry. I'm not going to miss that or fail to acknowledge that now. ... The vast majority of police officers are doing their job. So I'm just not falling for this notion that it has to be one thing or another thing."

He also dismissed a question of whether the NYPD is truly being reformed, in light of videos showing officers brutalizing people under the premise of social distancing arrests, and the fact that 90 percent of social distancing summonses were written to blacks and Latinos.

"You will see continued action," he said. "But I also want you to look at the history of six-and-a-half years of nonstop police reform. Anyone out there who thinks this is the same NYPD it was six-and-a-half years ago, I'll challenge you any time any day. It is a fundamentally different department. We have a lot more to do [but] don't take away that history."

This is a breaking story that will be updated.

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