BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Taking to Brooklyn streets in a protest caravan Thursday, activists accused the NYPD of disproportionately enforcing social distancing rules in communities of color, and being abusive while doing so.
Multiple videos have been posted on social media from across the city showing officers arresting African-Americans, sometimes cursing and punching them.
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“They are not dealing with this issue in the white community, but in the black community, we are being harassed and we are being beaten,” said community leader Reverend Kevin McCall.
The Brooklyn District Attorney says there were 40 social distancing arrests in his borough from March 17 through May 4. Thirty-five of those arrested were of black New Yokers, four Hispanic, and one white.
The Brooklyn District Attorney declined to prosecute any of them.
The NYPD says some of the videos that have gone viral did not involve social distancing enforcement, but clearly several did.
“This weekend, it get hot and people wanted to have a good time and I think tensions just got a little too hot,” said Commanding Officer of Brooklyn North Jeffrey Maddrey. “We’ve gone to 311 calls, we’ve gone to 911 calls where we have encountered issues of social distancing as well as our officers pulling up and turning the corner and seeing 30 or 40 people having a barbecue.”
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea vows he’ll look into all cases of force.
“If the cops on a particular incident were wrong, they are going to hear from me on that,” said Shea. “If I think the cops were right, I’m going to look at all of the circumstances of the incidents. Body cameras, surveillance videos.”
The commissioner said he doesn’t want the bridges that have been built between officers and community of color to be torn down as the city fights the coronavirus.
Advocates and some elected officials say officers shouldn’t be the ones tasked to educate New Yorkers about social distancing and enforcing the rules.
However, Mayor de Blasio believes officers are needed in the battle against COVID-19.
“We’re not going to sideline the NYPD,” de Blasio said. “We're going to use the NYPD to the fullest, but with smart protocols, smart training, figuring out what works and doesn't work.”
Organizers of the caravan say although they are outraged with police and their actions, they also say the community has to obey the law and should not fight with police or try to antagonize them.
The commanding officer of Brooklyn North said officers and the community need to take a deep breath and understand everyone is stressed out during this pandemic.