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A tale of two leaders: Cuomo and de Blasio take different attitudes toward riots

A protestor in Union Square pouring milk over his face to relieve the effects of pepper spray on May 30. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

After an unusually volatile night in Brooklyn and Manhattan in which multiple police vehicles were torched by protestors and other shocking incidents, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed two key changes to policing on Sunday while generally giving cops the benefit of the doubt.

That was in stark contrast to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press conference, which was a departure from delivering the usual COVID-19 figures – just 56 deaths on Saturday – as he put the focus to police violence in New York City the night before.

While acknowledging the “impossible situation” cops find themselves in once riots begin, Cuomo’s most scathing remarks were against brutality incidents that continue to create outrage in black and brown communities. He ordered a full review of the NYPD’s conduct in the riots Saturday night by Attorney General Letitia James with a 30-day deadline.

The demonstration was contentious and Cuomo said disturbing footage of a police SUV driving through a crowd on Flatbush Avenue and an officer pulling down the mask of a protestor in order to blast them with pepper spray were two topics he hoped the investigation would look into without “pulling any punches.”

“But their behavior is everything. I’ve seen those videos and those videos are truly disturbing. Some of those videos frankly are inexplicable to me,” Cuomo said.”I want an independent, informed review of what was done right, what was done wrong. I want that report in 30 days, I don’t want this to be another government ongoing report that comes out whenever everybody has moved on… Don’t pull any punches, tell the truth. Everybody saw the video, everybody wants an explanation.”

Cuomo ordered the attorney general to conduct the investigation under the belief that self-policing does not work, seeming to suggest that a local district attorney cannot be fair in a probe against the police force it has to deal with day-in, day-out.

“This is a moment of reform,” Cuomo said, after looking back over the decades since the Rodney King riots in April 1993.

This came in contrast to de Blasio’s statement just an hour earlier about the NYPD SUV incident, in which he seemed to take a stance against the protesters who were seen hurling objects at the vehicle.

“I want to remind people if those protestors had just gotten out of the way… we would not be talking about this situation,” de Blasio said.

According to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, there could have been more arrests over the course of the night and that NYPD would not tolerate violence or destruction of private property.

In regard to the police vehicle driving through the crowd in Brooklyn, the mayor was on the side of the police, for the most part, pointing to the rioters who threw multiple objects at the SUV. Shea said he was not pleased with footage, either. But he also distinguished the difference between a “protest and a mob.”

Union Square was a chaotic epicenter of destruction with three police vans being torched, about five others vandalized as well as a squad car at 11th and University Place. A most shocking incident on Flatbush Avenue saw an NYPD SUV driving through barriers and plowing into a crowd of protesters.

De Blasio’s morning presser centered around the 350 arrests made on Saturday night alone and that he would work toward two goals that he believes would be an improvement: cull NYPD officers from the force after an extensive review by Corporation Counsel Jim Johnson and city Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett. The second facet would be pressure Albany to repeal and replace 50-A.

The state law has proven contentious as it protects the identities of cops under investigation for various forms of misconduct. NYPD unions such as the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association and Sergeants’ Benevolent Association say repealing this law puts officers’ lives at risk.

According to Cuomo, the state National Guard will be on standby in other cities in anticipation of more demonstrations; Mayor de Blasio was resolute last night as well as this morning the NYPD would need no outside help.

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