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Cuomo Asks New York Attorney General To Probe Police Actions On ‘Disturbing’ Videos

Wong Maye-E
Police move to detain protesters during a solidarity rally for George Floyd, Sunday in Brooklyn. Protests were held over the death of Floyd, a black man in police custody in Minneapolis who died after being restrained by police on Memorial Day.

Governor Andrew Cuomo says he’s asked the state’s Attorney General to look into what he says are “disturbing” videos of police conduct during Sunday night’s protests and unrest in New York’s cities, including one of an NYPD police cruiser driving into a crowd of people. He says he’s also sending state police to assist upstate cities where demonstrations occurred, and has the state’s National Guard on standby.

“Last night was an ugly night all across this nation,” Cuomo said. “It was an ugly night across this state.”

Cuomo says he saw the videos on social media that include an NYPD car driving into a crowd of protesters, and a young African American man getting pepper sprayed while white protesters standing nearby were not targeted. He says while the actions seem “inexplicable,” he can’t make a definitive judgement based on the footage alone.

“I’m not going to make decisions off the video, I understand how difficult the job is of the police, and let’s hear what they have to say,” Cuomo said. “But I agree the videos are very, very, very disturbing.”

He says the state’s Attorney General, Tish James, will begin a probe and issue a report within 30 days. He says if any wrong doing can be proved, there will be “ramifications.”

The governor also endorsed some changes to laws regarding alleged police misconduct, including the release of prior police disciplinary records if an officer is accused of wrongdoing. Some lawmakers have proposed repealing a 1976 state statute known as Civil Rights law 50-a, which has been interpreted as a privacy protection for police records. Cuomo on Saturday said he’d sign a bill to repeal that law.

He says he also wants allegations of police abuse investigated by an independent prosecutor or agency, and not by local district attorneys. And he says there should be one national standard for what constitutes excessive force by a police officer.

Cuomo says he, too, is tired of seeing footage of African Americans beaten or killed during police encounters, beginning with Rodney King who was assaulted by police in Los Angeles nearly 30 years ago. He says the most recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where one police officer has been charged with third degree murder, can’t be in vain. He says people can make changes, as evidenced by most New Yorkers adopting the wearing of facials coverings and social distancing rules to stem to spread of the coronavirus.

“On April 12th we lost 800 people from COVID, yesterday we lost 56,” said Cuomo, who said it was the actions of the public that brought that number down.

And Cuomo says while he understands the anger, the burning and looting hurts the protesters’ calls for racial justice.  

“When you are violent it creates a scapegoat to shift the blame. It allows the President of the United States to tweet about looting rather than murder by a police officer,” said Cuomo. “It allows the federal government to politicize what’s going on, and come up with theories blaming the left and the extreme left, which only furthers the politics of division.”

On Sunday, President Trump blamed the far leftist group Antifa for the violence, and says he wants to declare it a terrorist organization. Others, including public safety officials in Minnesota, says they believe that far right and white supremacist groups are also trying to instigate violence.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.