NEW YORK - New York City Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea on Wednesday condemned overaggressive enforcement of social distancing rules while defending his department against criticisms that arrests disproportionately impacting black New Yorkers have been acts of racism.
Shea called viral videos of police arresting minorities New Yorkers “disheartening” and “disturbing” and vowed accountability.
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But he noted that New York is a majority-minority city. And in a heated defense of his officers, Shea rejected, “That this is business as usual for the NYPD or that this is quote-unquote racist policing.”
The commissioner said he wouldn’t stand for overaggressive policing by his officers but also wouldn’t stand for his department being called racist.
Shea addressed reporters as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daily COVID-19 news briefing.
De Blasio called the enforcement “improper activities, which will be dealt with” and said “they’re the exception, not the norm.”
African-Americans have made up the majority of the city’s social-distancing arrests. The district attorneys of Queens and Kings counties have declined to prosecute their borough’s social-distancing arrests. And critics, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, have fiercely criticized the disproportionate impact on racial minorities.
De Blasio on Wednesday also was asked what public schooling may look like in the fall as the city struggles with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
He lauded his signature universal prekindergarten program, saying that nearly 62,000 offers have gone out to students for pre-K seats in the fall.
But he also couldn’t say definitively that schools, which have been closed since mid-March, would operate as usual come fall.
Plan A was to open fully but there also are plans B, C and D, he said.
Testing, contact tracing and cleaning procedures established over the course of the next four months will determine what life for the city’s 1.1 million public school students will look like come August and September, de Blasio said.
“Let’s not discount the element of time here,” the mayor said, adding: “With this much lead time, my goal is a full reopening with any number of protections in place, but it will all be about the facts and the proof.”
The remarks about children in the city came against the backdrop of officials locally and nationwide working to understand and slow the emergence of a COVID-19-linked respiratory illness impacting young people.
New York City has 82 cases of of pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome, de Blasio said.
One child has died and 53 have tested positive for COVID-19 or antibodies, he said.
The city on Wednesday was set to launch a multilingual PSA campaign warning about the symptoms associated with the illness.