De Blasio’s staff taking to the streets over his handling of George Floyd protests

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers the State of the City address on the Upper West Side, Jan. 10, 2019. (Photo by Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

BY YOAV GONEN AND ROSA GOLDENSOHN. This story was first published on June 6, 2020 by THE CITY.

Current and former employees of the de Blasio administration distressed over the mayor’s handling of largely peaceful protests against police brutality are shifting their complaints from pen to pavement.

Hundreds are planning to rally in City Hall Park at 9:30 a.m. on Monday — the same day the city’s reopening efforts begin following weeks of coronavirus-imposed restrictions — ramping up their prodding of Mayor Bill de Blasio to implement long-promised police reform efforts, according to sources involved.

“I think he’s been a lot of talk and a no-show, and that’s what we’re demanding: We need him to actually take action,” said one administration employee involved in the effort. “As city employees we have to hold our boss accountable.”

Organizers plan a march to Gracie Mansion, the city-owned, Upper East Side residence where de Blasio and his wife Chirlane McCray have lived since July 2014, the workers said.

Earlier this week, hundreds of former and current administration workers published an open letter outlining four police accountability and reform demands for de Blasio — including stripping $1 billion from the NYPD’s upcoming fiscal budget and diverting the money toward social service and employment efforts.

The letter, which was first reported by the New York Daily News, also requests greater accountability, discipline and transparency regarding cases of excessive force by police personnel — including during the past 10 days of protests. As of midday Saturday, nearly 1,000 current and former employees had signed on.

“It was sort of an organic follow-up to the letter, that other city employees realized we need to do our part — and for them it was doing this march,” said the administration employee.

Two Groups, One Mission

The open letter and march were organized by two different groups, but with a common purpose, the city employee added.

The employee said the four demands from the open letter stand, along with new requirements — including two-thirds votes by the City Council to approve future curfews and to OK police commissioners appointed by a mayor.

The group behind the rally is also joining a call for members of the Civilian Complaint Review Board to be elected rather than appointed.

Another employee in the mayor’s office who’s participating in the campaign said de Blasio’s repeated denials that police as a whole have been overly aggressive in breaking up largely peaceful protests has helped fuel the staff backlash.

“I feel as if I’m being gaslighted by my own boss when I personally experienced brutality at the hands of the NYPD at a protest last night — and then he went on [The] Brian Lehrer [Show] and he denied my own reality by saying that there has been no use of violence on peaceful protesters,” the worker told THE CITY on Friday.

“De Blasio ran on a platform of equity and police reform, and if we’re staying silent right now then we are just as complicit as he is.”

Multiple times in the last week the mayor has praised the “restraint” of the NYPD in dealing with nightly protests that were sparked by the May 25 death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

But he has largely failed to acknowledge news reports and complaints — some documented with video evidence — that police suddenly detained protesters for violating an 8 p.m. curfew, in some cases with aggressive tactics that include baton strikes.

Promises, But No Details

De Blasio enacted the curfew, initially set at 11 p.m., June 1 following widespread incidents of looting and vandalism — primarily in Manhattan.

The mayor and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea have highlighted a number of attacks on police officers — including a lieutenant who was struck in the head with a brick during a Manhattan protest.

De Blasio committed over the past week to making the police discipline system faster and better. But when asked for details, he said, “I don’t have a specific outline to give you right now because we’re dealing with immediate issues.”

Protesters kneel along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn during protests against the police-involved killing of George Floyd, June 2, 2020. (Photo by Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

The lack of what critics see as significant progress on police accountability and transparency has rankled many one-time supporters of de Blasio, who ran a progressive campaign in 2013 promising to end New York’s “tale of two cities.”

For his part, the mayor has pointed to the reduction in the use of the stop-and-frisk tactic against black and brown communities, the training of officers on de-escalation and how to recognize inherent bias, and a move toward neighborhood policing as signs he’s kept his commitments.

Late Friday, the administration announced the suspension of two NYPD officers — one for allegedly shoving a protester to the pavement on the back of her head, and another for allegedly pulling down the facemask of a protester and squirting him with pepper spray.

‘We Are Here for You’

Early Saturday, de Blasio sent a letter to City Hall staff members thanking them for their work during the past three months of constant crisis — including the coronavirus outbreak — and committing to making the city “fairer and more just for communities of color.”

“We have 19 months left together as a team,” the mayor wrote, according to an email obtained by THE CITY. “And I promise to use every second of that time to fight for something better, to fighting to dismantle structural racism,” he added.

“To every person of color on this team in particular, I want you to know that Chirlane and I see what you are going through and feel how deeply this moment hurts. We are here for you. We will never stop fighting for you. Black Lives Matter in New York City.”

City Hall officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about what sparked the mayor’s letter or for comment on the planned rally.

This story was originally published on June 6, 2020 by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.