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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

New tension between council, cops

The trouble stems from an immigrant-rights rally in January when police arrested Council members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez.

NYPD Assistant Chief Stephen Hughes, left, and Chief

NYPD Assistant Chief Stephen Hughes, left, and Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison answer questions during a City Council hearing last week. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Is it a war of words, or is a real war simmering between the NYPD and the City Council?

The trouble stems from an immigrant-rights rally last month when police arrested Council members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez. Police say the elected officials blocked an ambulance that was called to take immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir to the hospital after he fainted. Demonstrators were protesting Ragbir’s impending deportation under President Donald Trump’s stepped-up immigration enforcement.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was at the rally, reportedly shouted at a police official at the scene, “You people were out of control.” He added, referring to police Commissioner James O’Neill, “I want the P.C. to call me now.”

O’Neill has been mostly silent as council members have escalated their attacks. During a hearing last week, council members socked it to Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison, former Chief of the Strategic Response Group Stephen Hughes and NYPD legislative affairs director Oleg Chernyavsky, claiming the department is in league with Trump immigration officials.

Williams and Rodriguez “were shooed away reasonably [from the ambulance] four times. They were the instigators. Now they cry foul,” said a police source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to directly address the incident.

O’Neill has hesitated to release a videotape of the arrests, which police officials say shows Williams and Rodriguez blocking the ambulance. “There is extensive video of the incident,” the NYPD said in a statement at the time. “At this point it appears the police were clearing a path for an ambulance with a patient inside that was en route to a hospital.”

Instead, one of O’Neill’s few public remarks about the incident came at a recent news conference at the 79th Precinct. He said a police officer at the demonstration had been transferred, implying he had acted inappropriately.

As for Ragbir, his case has become a cause célèbre in progressive circles. A permanent resident of the United States since 1994, he was convicted of wire fraud in 2000, served a prison term, and in 2006 was ordered deported. Ragbir, of Trinidad and Tobago, was granted a stay that expired last month, which precipitated the demonstration.

Last week, he was granted another stay, pending a federal judge’s review.


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