Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes New York Police Department officers use “a light touch” with protesters outraged over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year old Minneapolis Black man who died after an officer pressed his knee into his neck to pin him to the ground.
Protests erupted in Minneapolis after cell phone footage of Floyd’s death, filmed by 17-year-old bystander Darnella Frazer, went viral on Monday. The graphic footage shows Floyd repeatedly saying “I can’t breath” and pleading for help while now former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck until he stopped speaking or moving.
Demonstrations from protesters calling for charges to be pressed against Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest and death have spread across the country, including at Union Square on Thursday night where dozens were arrested by NYPD.
“The anger out there is real and unfortunately, very justified,” said de Blasio during his weekly Q & A WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “I really believe that the NYPD knows how to handle protests and respect whoever is protesting but I want to see a light touch because people are undeniably angry for a reason.”
The interview on WNYC took place shortly after de Blasio finished up his daily novel coronavirus press conference where he was pressed at first by New York Times reporter Jeff Mays followed by others on the irony of de Blasio publicly calling for due process for Floyd’s death in a tweet and his own administration’s five-year-long decision to fire former officer Daniel Pantaleo.
In 2014, Pantaleo placed Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man from Staten Island, in a chokehold while trying to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. The arrest was filmed on a bystander’s cell phone camera and shows multiple officers tackling and pinning Garner to the ground as he repeatedly gasps for air and says that he can not breathe and eventually loses consciousness. Garner was pronounced dead at a hospital an hour later. Despite medical examiners ruling that Pantaleo’s chokehold contributed to Garner’s death, federal charges against Pantaleo were dropped in 2019. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill fired Pantaloe a month later.
“The bottom line here is here, I’ve been really clear about the fact that we made a mistake, I made a mistake in thinking that the US Department of Justice would do its job,” de Blasio told reporters.” When the city took over there was due process, there was a trial, our police commissioner made a decision it was the right decision. What I feel in retrospect is we should have ignored the Department of Justice because what they did was unconscionable in not acting and just moved ahead and that’s what we will do from now on. “
Remarking on the similarities between Floyd and Garner’s deaths, Lehrer pressed de Blasio for answers this contradiction. “Is it easier to speak his truth when it’s not your city?” asked Lehrer. “What’s your own legacy going to be in this regard?”
“I look back on that and I claim responsibility for the mistake of waiting on the Justice Department and I’ll never let that happen again,” de Blasio responded.