Witnesses are speaking out against violence committed by the New York Police Department during over the course of three weeks of protests against police brutality.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is conducting an independent investigation into the NYPD’s actions and has asked any member of the public with pertinent information to submit testimony, including video or photo evidence. The testimony started Wednesday and, due to a large number of people eager to speak out, continues today, June 18.
Yesterday, James was joined by former attorney general Loretta Lynch and New York University law professor Barry Friedman to hear from people who said they witnessed and documented instances of police violence toward protesters.
“Government must never be afraid to examine how it is living up to its covenant with the people,” Lynch said during the day’s opening remarks. “That’s why today’s hearing is so important.”
Dozens of people signed up to testify, including Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, public advocate Jumaane Williams and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who represents New York’s 7th District.
“Every New Yorker should be outraged,” Velazquez said. “When police are equipped like an occupying army, they act like one and treat people as insurgents to be subdued, rather than their neighbors.”
Rep. Velazquez introduced legislation on June 10 that aims to eliminate a program that channels military-grade weapons and equipment to local and state police forces across the country. She also called on implementing initiatives that would devote more time to training officers in how to de-escalate conflict.
Much of the conversation focused on the curfew, and how the police treated protesters after it was implemented.
“All the curfew did, in my opinion, was tell people when to come out and protest,” Williams said. “An act of civil disobedience is going against laws that prevent you from fighting for justice and that curfew did just that.”
Wednesday’s witnesses also included Whitney Hu, an activist in South Brooklyn, and Dounya Zayer, whose encounter with NYPD officer Vincent D’Andraia has since gone viral. Zayer, 20, says she was at a protest at Barclays Center on May 29 when D’Andraia told her to get off the street. She said she was heeding his direction, but had taken out her phone to film the encounter when D’Andraia knocked it to the ground, partially shattering it.
“I had a right to record and he destroyed my property,” Zayer said.
Zayer continued, saying D’Andraia called her a “stupid fucking bitch” and shoved her to the ground “with as much force as he could.” As a result of the officer’s shove, she smacked her head on the concrete ground. Protesters helped her up, but she then suffered a seizure and was taken to the hospital.
“I have had a concussion,” Zayer said. “I can’t sleep. I can’t stop thinking about what happened to me that night.”
James apologized to Zayer, saying that most NYPD officers wouldn’t behave in that manner.
“Thank you for your sympathy, but I don’t want to hear that there are good cops,” Zayer said, complaining that her rights had been “stripped away.”
The livestream experienced technical difficulties around 1 p.m., stalling the proceedings for over half an hour. The public hearing adjourned at 8 p.m. after testimony from 52 witnesses, elected officials and advocates.