New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio has defended the New York City Police Department after a pair of the force’s SUVs into a crowd during Saturday’s protest against the death last week of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
His comments were soon criticized by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who accused de Blasio of “making excuses” for the NYPD.
De Blasio reacted after at least two videos were posted to social media on Saturday showing a crowd of people move a yellow barrier in front of one of the police vehicles, clearly marked with the New York Police Department’s badge, at St. Marks Ave. and Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn. A series of objects, including traffic cones, are seen being thrown at it.
A second SUV is seen arriving at the scene, pulling up next to the first vehicle. As a crowd forms in front of it, it slowly pushes its way through the throng.
The first vehicle then drives into the barricade at a higher speed, sending people sprawling. It is not known if any of them were injured.
In a news conference late Saturday, de Blasio said he had seen the video, which he called “upsetting.”
“It is inappropriate for protesters to surround a police vehicle and threaten police officers,” he said. “That’s wrong on its face and that hasn’t happened in the history of protests in this city.”
He added that it was “clear that a different element has come into play here who are trying to hurt police officers and trying to damage their vehicles,”
“If a police officer is in that situation, they have to get out of that situation,” he said.
De Blasio added that he wished the officers “hadn’t done that, but I also understood that they didn’t start the situation,” he said.
“The situation was started by a group of protesters converging on a police vehicle, attacking that vehicle,” he added. “So the officers have to get out of that situation.”
De Blasio, a Democrat, has had a troubled relationship with the NYPD, particularly rank-and-file officers. After the attempted assasination of an officer and another was wounded in February police leaders lashed out at the mayor.
Edward D. Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, wrote on Twitter at the time that members of the NYPD were “declaring war” on him.
Last August, the union declared it had “no confidence” in di Blasio, after it claimed that he had “unlawfully interfered” in the firing of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who was seen on video using a chokehold during Eric Garner’s deadly arrest five years ago.
Ocasio-Cortez swiftly criticized de Blasio’s comments.
“As mayor, this police department is under your leadership,” the Democrat congresswoman tweeted early Sunday. “This moment demands leadership and accountability from each of us. Defending and making excuses for NYPD running SUVs into crowds was wrong.”
The force posted a clip from de Blasio’s news conference of him defending the videos, on its NYPD News Twitter feed.
An NYPD representative was not immediately available for comment on this story.
Henry Austin is a London-based editor and reporter for NBC News Digital.
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