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In Wake of Black Lives Matter Protests, New York Attorney General Wants Federal Monitor to Oversee NYPD for Civil Rights Abuses


New York Attorney General Letitia James

Some five months after flagging racial disparities in criminal charges stemming from last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit on Thursday that aims to put the New York City Police Department under federal monitoring.

“While many aggrieved protesters have sought monetary relief to remedy their injuries, this suit seeks solely declaratory and injunctive relief—relief that is imperative to ending NYPD’s decades-long, unlawful practices in policing protests,” James wrote toward the beginning of a 69-page complaint filed in Manhattan Federal Court.

Attorney General James launched a probe in the wake of the NYPD’s response to Black Lives Matter protests this past summer, and she told reporters that what she found alarmed her.

“What we found was an egregious abuse of police power, rampant excessive use of force and leadership unable and unwilling to stop it,” James said, announcing that she is seeking “broad injunctive relief” and “systemic reforms.”

The lawsuit follows her release of a report analyzing a data set of more than 2,000 arrests from Black Lives Matter protests that gripped the city between May 28 and June 7. The NYPD charged 16 percent of Black protesters with a felony during this period, as compared to eight percent of Latino protesters and less than four percent of white protesters and Asian protesters, the report found.

But the lawsuit addresses alleged civil rights violations involving the NYPD’s policing of public protests, spanning decades to anti-war protests against former President George W. Bush.

“Following a 2003 anti-war protest, an investigation by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) documented 198 accounts of excessive force by NYPD Officers, including the use of horses and batons to disperse crowds as well as indiscriminate pepper spraying,” the complaint states. “This investigation also documented the use of crowd control tactics such as physically preventing demonstrators from reaching their rally location, herding protesters into pens fashioned from metal barricades, and mass arrests.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea, Chief of Department Terence A. Monahan are listed as defendants.

The mayor insisted that he shares the same goal as James, though he criticized using the judicial branch to attain it.

“I met with Attorney General James yesterday and we have a common goal: Continue to drive major police reforms,” De Blasio wrote in a statement. “I couldn’t agree more that there are pressing reforms that must—and will—be made this year, including the major discipline reforms announced with my Obama Foundation pledge, all 30 of the recommendations from the DOI and Law Department reports, and more. That work is critical and is happening right now. A court process and the added bureaucracy of a federal monitor will not speed up this work. There is no time to waste and we will continue to press forward.”

Sharing her announcement with protesters who alleged excessive force, James catalogued what she described as some of the findings of her investigation.

“Protesters suffered suffered significant physical and psychological harm, including broken arms, bones, gashes requiring stitches and staples, concussions, and more,” she said. “In total we found over 155 incidents of officers using excessive and unreasonable force against protesters.”

Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who served under President Barack Obama, and New York University professor Barry Friedman assisted James with her probe.

[Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."