“Protesters — many of whom were never charged with any crime and were merely exercising their First Amendment rights — suffered concussions, broken bones, cuts, bruises, and other physical injuries,” the lawsuit says.
James, a Democrat, asked the judge to appoint a court monitor to oversee protest policing in New York City, and to issue orders prohibiting alleged abuses and controversial tactics.
In separate statements, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and a spokesperson for the NYPD signaled support for making further changes but said additional oversight was unnecessary.
“I met with Attorney General James yesterday and we have a common goal: Continue to drive major police reforms,” de Blasio said, adding that a monitor and additional bureaucracy “will not speed up this work.”
The protests that gripped New York last year were part of a nationwide uprising after the death of a Black man, George Floyd, while in Minneapolis police custody. New York, which has the country’s largest police force, has a history of similar high-profile deaths, including that of Eric Garner in 2014 and Amadou Diallo in 1999.
At a news conference announcing the lawsuit, James said the protesters’ civil rights were violated and that some were physically assaulted without justification.
“As the demonstrations continued, the very thing being protested — aggressive actions by law enforcement — was on public display,” James said.
Protester Andrew Smith, who is Black, said a White officer “attacked me while my hands were high up in the air” during a rally he attended, while White demonstrators nearby were left alone. “I was no threat. I was not being aggressive or hostile but somehow was still assaulted by the police,” Smith said during James’s news conference.
Amid the protests here, demonstrators vented their rage at NYPD officers, whom James chastised for using a controversial procedure known as “kettling” to surround crowds and make arrests.
Apart from New York’s mayor, the lawsuit names Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, Chief of Department Terence Monahan. The police department continues to implement new training and other recommendations made by the city’s Department of Investigation and Law Department, de Blasio said.
An NYPD spokesperson said that the department “has embraced the recent suggestions” by the two agencies that reviewed last year’s events, but agreed with the mayor that another layer of bureaucracy “does not speed up the process of continued reform.”