As the sun rose Tuesday morning, many of the city’s streets were once again littered with broken glass, clothes hangers and other evidence of looting. Retail establishments such as Verizon and Dolce & Gabbana were wiped out. Even the iconic Macy’s department store in Manhattan’s Herald Square was infiltrated.
Cuomo accused the department, the country’s largest with 36,000 uniformed members, of grossly mishandling matters, and offered to deploy state police or the National Guard to help suppress the destruction.
“The police in New York City were not effective at doing their job last night. Period. They have to do a better job,” Cuomo said at a news briefing. “. . . We’ve had activity all across the state, all manageable, except in New York City.”
De Blasio insisted that only the NYPD is equipped to deal with the problem, having spent years focused on trying to improve community relations and establish a mutual trust. “You know what will help them deal with the situation? Not the National Guard,” he said at a briefing. “The people of New York City are much more powerful than anything the National Guard could do.”
On Wednesday morning, after a night that proved far calmer by comparison, New York Police Chief Terence A. Monahan told NBC’s “Today” that Cuomo later apologized privately to city officials. “I’d hope he would come out publicly and say that again today,” Monahan said.
While cities across the country are dealing with riots that have grown from protests over the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, New York and its 8.6 million residents present a novel backdrop. Some of the world’s wealthiest people reside in Manhattan, where opulent homes in luxury high-rises form a stark contrast to the poor, mostly minority neighborhoods of other boroughs.
And while much of the city remains paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic, for many activists here, what happened to Floyd is a call to action, an infuriating reminder of 2014 and the death of Eric Garner, a black man from Staten Island who police restrained using a banned chokehold despite pleading — just as Floyd did — “I can’t breathe.”
Shea, the police commissioner, suggested the scale and the spread of looting and violence is a significant challenge for law enforcement, but he defended the department’s aggressiveness thus far and vowed to bring more force to bear. About 700 arrests were made Monday, police said, noting also that over the previous three days officers had detained about 500 people suspected of burglary. The majority of arrests were made in Manhattan. Separately, officials said that the number of officers dispatched to the streets would be doubled, shifts would be extended and days off eliminated until the unrest subsides.
“The police officers are out there. They are affecting arrests. They are putting themselves in harm’s way,” Shea said at a briefing. “They are being attacked. They are also putting their lives on the line to make sure that people have the right to protest against them.”
In an interview, former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the department may have the nation’s largest police force, but it is only a lot of cops when there is relative calm — not “when things are in chaos.”
“There’s no police department in America that under those pressures and responsibilities can cover every part of a city,” Bratton said.
A police official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive law enforcement practices, acknowledged that officers are overwhelmed by the amount of activity night after night. “You can hear it on the radio, you can hear it in their voice,” the official said.
Compounding the challenge, police say, is the vitriol and violence they’re encountering. In Brooklyn, for example, a woman tossed a molotov cocktail into an occupied police vehicle last week. Officers have encountered gang members, the official said, and have been hit with bricks or water bottles filled instead with nail polish remover or other chemicals meant to inflict pain. A sergeant responding to a pawnshop burglary in the Bronx early Tuesday was hit by a car.
Louis Turco, who heads the Lieutenants Benevolent Association, said the violence seen during the demonstrations is a product of new laws eliminating bail for many crimes and other criminal justice reforms unpopular with many on the force.
“This has been put in motion by our politicians that have allowed the criminal element to feel as if there’s no consequences for any crime that you do and now you've seen this coming out,” Turco said. “ . . . Now they go home and tell all their friends, ‘Listen, I got out the next day and nothing’s going to happen to me.’ ”