Mayor Bill de Blasio | Andrew Burton/Getty Images
NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday blamed an organized group of anarchists for inciting violence and vandalism amid protests over the killing of George Floyd, but conceded some were from the city and the neighborhoods where demonstrations were happening — a shift from his message Saturday night.
“Some come from outside the city. Some are from inside the city,” he said. “Some are from the neighborhoods where the protests take place, some are not. But what we do know is there is an explicit agenda of violence and it does not conform with the history of this city in which we have always honored non-violent protests.”
Only hours before, on Saturday night, the mayor insisted the threat of violence was coming from “out of town” demonstrators, many of whom are “not from communities of color” and have a “warped ideology” that leads them to “harming working people who are police officers.”
De Blasio, who first came to office with a promise of police reform, has ardently defended the NYPD during the recent protests and insisted officers were exercising great restraint in the face of threats from demonstrators bent on attacking cops. He’s faced fierce backlash from criminal justice advocates and members of his own party.
“@NYCMayor your comments tonight were unacceptable,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted early Sunday morning. “Defending and making excuses for NYPD running SUVs into crowds was wrong. Make it right. De-escalate.”
Police officers drove through a barricade into throngs of protesters in Brooklyn Saturday evening. Video of the incident, which quickly went viral, shows demonstrators throwing cones, garbage bags and water bottles at the NYPD vehicles before they plowed into the crowds.
The mayor insisted again Sunday the officers were reacting to a dangerous situation caused by threats of violence.
“We’re going to fully investigate that incident,” the mayor said Sunday. “I don’t ever want to see a police officer do that. … But I also know that it was an extremely dangerous situation and the one thing [police] couldn’t do was stay there.”
“There are protests, and there are mobs,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea added later in the conference. “A protest does not involve surrounding and ambushing a marked police car.”
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, speaking in a separate press conference that morning, criticized the mayor’s earlier remarks to the incident as “a terrible response.”
“We can’t have police officers who haven’t been trained on how to handle a panicked situation and are handling it through plowing protesters,” he said. “That’s not something we can accept.”
The mayor announced he was appointing his corporation counsel, Jim Johnson, and Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett to conduct a full investigation into the police response to protests which began late last week and will continue Sunday night.
Shea said multiple officers were injured in skirmishes over the weekend and close to 350 arrests were made — but aside from property damage, police said no serious injuries or fatalities have occurred.
De Blasio praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s remarks from Saturday morning, in which he said he would sign legislation updating New York’s 50-a law, criticized by criminal justice advocates who say it shields too much information relating to police disciplinary records.
The de Blasio administration had previously cited the law when groups and officials across New York City pushed for the records of former officer Daniel Pantaleo, who fatally placed Staten Islander Eric Garner into a chokehold in 2014.
“I have said we need to repeal and replace, I want to be abundantly clear,” de Blasio said Sunday. “There must be some provision in the law to protect the personal information, the home address, the type of information about an individual police officer that is about their safety and security.”
De Blasio said Sunday he hoped Cuomo would sign such legislation in June.
Footage from Minneapolis of Floyd’s death, whose final words were “I can’t breathe” as a police officer knelt on his neck, has drawn parallels to Garner’s death in Staten Island as he gasped the same words.
“I think that when you look at something as terrible as that incident, what could come out of it?” said Shea of footage of Floyd, who was apprehended while unarmed for allegedly using counterfeit money to buy cigarettes. “Hopefully something does come out of it.”
“Whether it’s law enforcement or not, there is universal condemnation … to what we saw in that video,” he said.