As many as 100 protesters, elected officials and community leaders spent two days detailing alleged police brutality by the New York Police Department during George Floyd demonstrations.
The testimony came at a virtual public hearing hosted by New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday and Thursday. Stories of broken bones from baton strikes, agony from pepper spray and hours and hours in a holding cell while others wailed in pain took center stage.
“People have taken to the street because they are desperate to be heard. But more importantly, they really want to see change in their lifetime and they are demanding change,” said James at the conclusion of the hearing on Thursday. “They are tired of seeing Black men and women abused and who have died at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them and I want them to know that I hear them and I hear every person that came before us.”
James was joined on a panel by former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Barry Friedman, a New York University law professor and founding director of NYU’s Policing Project.
Protesters testify that police used excessive force
One of the dozens of protesters who testified for nine hours on Thursday was Yamil Miller who spoke about his relative, Jahmel Leach. Leach is a 16-year-old boy who was hit with a stun gun and beaten by police in the Bronx who thought he was setting fires.
“The officer stated to me, ‘Jahmel was so tall, I thought he was an adult when I took him down.’ And he also acknowledged that he Tased him in the face,” Miller said.
Leach was not charged in connection with lighting any fires, Miller said.
“You can see where the police jumped out of the car, charged at him. When Jahmel looked up he was immediately tased in his face with the Taser,” Miller said. “At that moment, he didn’t have an opportunity to talk, identify himself or say anything. This was just the contact the police had immediately when they arrived.”
Miller said Leach was taken to the hospital for injuries related to being hit with the stun gun in the face along with baton strikes.
The NYPD said in a statement that it is still investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Miller was one of 48 people who spoke out against the NYPD’s handling of the demonstrations on Thursday.
Much like the first day, protesters painted a picture of excessive force, alleging that officers were quick to violence, in some cases shielded their badge numbers, did not wear masks and used plastic zip-tie restraints too tight.
Dounya Zayer, the 20-year-old woman seen in a viral video being shoved by Officer Vincent D’Andraia in Brooklyn “with as much force as he could” objected to James’ attempt to comfort her by saying that those officers did not represent the majority of police during her testimonial on the first day.
“Where are the good cops that I keep hearing of? Thank you for your sympathy but I don’t want to hear that there are good cops when not a single good cop helped me and I’m afraid to even leave my house now because I feel like I’m going to be pulled over and they’re going to do something to me,” Zayer said. “I’m afraid to protest because I feel like they’re going to see me at a protest. These are my rights that are being stripped away by good cops that are supposed to uphold the law and protect the people.”
“Good cops,” Zayer said before she took questions from the panel. “I don’t see no good cops.”
“I understand your pain and I hope in time you understand that the purpose of this hearing is to get to the bottom of this and to try to reform the system and specifically, the NYPD,” James said in response.
NYPD did not officially attend hearing
The attorney general addressed an official NYPD statement that said the department had not been formally invited to the public hearing.
“Each and every day within the last 10 days I’ve inquired as to whether the mayor and or the police commissioner were available to attend,” James said.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and Mayor Bill de Blasio were then invited to participate.
“They can contact me now. Both of these gentlemen have my cell phone, my personal cell phone and the personal cell phone of my chief of staff. They can call us at this moment and we will accommodate them,” James said. “Come and testify because the general public expects you to and we could include your perspective as part of this investigation.”
In response, the mayor’s office sent a statement saying they would be assisting in any investigations and touting recent measures that were taken including diverting funds, disbanding the anti-crime unit, releasing more body camera footage, and changes to the disciplinary system.
“We are fully complying with the Attorney General’s investigation to get to the truth of what happened at the protests, and will review the comments made by the public to help deepen our reforms,” de Blasio said in a statement. “This is only the beginning, and we will never stop fighting to make New York a fairer city.”
Ivonne Rayo, who sobbed during her testimony, said she held her hands up to show officers she wasn’t a threat during a protest in Brooklyn.
“I was hit with a baton on my left arm right above the elbow,” Rayo said. “We were unarmed peaceful protesters and did not warrant this hate and brutality from the NYPD. We were standing up for the victims of police brutality at the hands of the police and specifically, the NYPD.”
The NYPD had as many as 22,000 officers out on a single day to police the demonstrations, the department said. From May 29 to June 15, the NYPD had 87 complaints on 51 incidents, according to the department.
More than 300 NYPD officers were injured in the demonstrations, according to the department.
And while the NYPD did not make an appearance, NYPD Sgt. Angel Ramos from the National Latino Officers Association provided a police officer’s perspective. He said some officers had an elevated heart rate and would have trouble breathing in masks and wore riot gear to “prevent being hit with a pipe.”
Ramos addressed the NYPD officers who were recorded on video accelerating their car through a crowd of protesters that had surrounded the vehicle and were throwing debris.
“It’s hard because you can’t get out. You’ve got nobody else there. You try to back it up, you’ll probably hit somebody and they went forward,” said Ramos.
“In that situation, it’s life or death,” said Ramos. “It’s an unpredictable, uncontrolled situation.”