NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea on Friday night announced the suspension of two NYPD officers who assaulted protesters in separate incidents last week. One officer has been suspended without pay for pushing a female protester to the street, while the other was suspended without pay for pulling down a protester’s face mask and pepper spraying him. (A supervisor who was at the scene of the first incident will be transferred.)
In his statement, Shea promised “transparency during the disciplinary process.” The NYPD has not identified the officers in question.
Both incidents were caught on video and shared widely on social media. On May 29th, a woman was standing in the street in Brooklyn as protesters marched by when an NYPD officer shoved her to the street. She hit her head in the fall, and a witness wrote on Instagram that she had seizures:
The woman, later identified as Dounya Zayer, was taken to the hospital and later released. Zayer told the Daily News, “I wasn’t aggressive toward the police officer. Even if I was he should have had the self restraint to not hurt the people’s he’s supposed to be protecting.”
On Saturday, May 30th, an NYPD officer in Brooklyn was seen on video pulling down a protester’s face mask — which the state has required New Yorkers to wearin order to slow the spread of COVID-19 — and pepper spraying him in the face.
I am heartbroken and disgusted to see one of my family members a young black man w/his hands up peacefully protesting and an NYPD officer pulls down his mask and pepper sprays him. @NYCSpeakerCoJo @BPEricAdams @FarahNLouis @JumaaneWilliams @NewYorkStateAG @NYPDShea cc: @EOsyd pic.twitter.com/tGK5XWS0bt
— Ms. Anju J. Rupchandani (@AJRupchandani) May 31, 2020
The protester, Andrew Smith, says the officer’s action was unprovoked. “At a certain level I come to expect the police to do things that things that they shouldn’t do,” Smith told NBC NY.
Smith’s attorney, Kareen Vessup, added, “We think its egregious in the middle of a pandemic to yank off someone’s personal protective equipment.”
Over 2,000 people have been arrested in NYC in just over one week of street protests against police violence, with many of them detained illegally before arraignment for longer than 24 hours. (On Thursday, a Manhattan judge rejected a Legal Aid lawsuit demanding the immediate release of hundreds of protesters who have been held for over 24 hours.) Though the majority of the protesters have been peaceful, the NYPD’s violent crackdowns have elicited widespread condemnation, and state Attorney General Letitia James is conducting an investigation into the department’s handling of the demonstrations.
On Friday night, Shea said both officers who were suspended “have been referred to the Department Advocate for disciplinary action,” and added that “there are other matters that we are actively investigating.”