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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo calls for police chokehold ban, 50-a repeal

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a briefing on

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a briefing on Wednesday. Credit: Office of the Governor

This story was reported by Anthony M. DeStefano, Nicole Fuller, Matthew Chayes and Craig Schneider. It was written by Schneider and Chayes.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday that he supports statewide measures to ban police chokeholds and end the secrecy that shields the public from finding out about cops who are disciplined.

"No chokeholds. No chokeholds," Cuomo said during his morning briefing from Albany. "How many times do you have to learn the same lesson?"

Cuomo's comments come after a wave of protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was handcuffed and died in Minneapolis after a police officer allegedly placed a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Cuomo said he would also support repealing the 1976 law that keeps police officers' disciplinary records secret from the public — one of the nation's strictest such laws.

The state law, section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, shields police disciplinary records, personnel files and related material from public disclosure. The law prevents disclosure of cops’ histories even from criminal defendants — except in rare circumstances.

Opposition to the law has been seen at local protests.

“REPEAL 50-a. (GOOGLE IT.),” read one cardboard sign scrawled in marker at Washington Square Park on Wednesday. “KEEP POLICE ACCOUNTABLE.”

Most other states allow more disclosure than New York. California in 2018 changed its longstanding law to mandate more disclosure.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association labor union, said that rescinding 50-a would endanger cops, especially during the recent unrest.

"It is inconceivable that Governor Cuomo would want to arm those extremists with confidential police personnel records, so that they bring their weapons to our front doors.”

The state’s Freedom of Information Law, which isn’t part of 50-a, already prohibits the disclosure of records that would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Home addresses are not available, with or without 50-a.

Section 50-a applies to all police forces in New York, including the State Police, which Cuomo controls, and does not release police disciplinary files.

Cuomo also said Saturday that he would like to see a bill that makes the state attorney general the independent prosecutor in instances where a police officer kills someone.

"I did that five years ago as an executive order. Let's codify it," he said. "Pass the bills. Actually make the change."

On Saturday, protesters took to the streets once again — mostly in Manhattan and Brooklyn — and participated in peaceful demonstrations. Large crowds marched through Foley Square and the Village in Manhattan throughout the day.

Saturday night, at the intersection of W. 34th St. and Sixth Avenue, the protesters, who had been marching for at least three hours — through the East Village, onto the traffic lanes of FDR Drive, onward to the Lower East Side, Chinatown, TriBeCa, Union Square, and Herald Square — found themselves suddenly surrounded by cops in riot gear. A leader came on a megaphone said, said “we love you,” “good night,“ and all cheered, and they dispersed on their own at 11 p.m.

There had been 1,000 protesters at the peak; it dwindled to a few hundred by the end.

According to NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller, who was marching with the NYPD entourage for part of the evening, there have been an average of 10 such groups citywide for the past four or five nights.

Late Saturday afternoon and evening, a large crowd gathered outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as a few dozen uniformed NYPD officers looked on. “Abolish the police,” they chanted, as the hot sun bore down.

The crowd also chanted “peaceful protest” and “George Floyd” and “no justice, no peace.”

Protesters held signs that included: “Racism is a pandemic”; Abolish structural racism”; “Nurses for Black Lives” and “NYPD can you hear us?”

The protesters took a knee in honor of Floyd, as a leader of the demonstration noted he was being memorialized in North Carolina. They then stood and sang “Amazing Grace.”

Protest organizers walked around the crowd offering squirts of hand sanitizer, including to the police.

Hamza Deib, 28, an Islip resident and owner of the Taheni Mediterranean Grill in Park Slope, handed out falafel wraps to protesters. Deib said his company began handing out free food during the pandemic to the less fortunate, and continues to do that, but has since shifted to handing out food to protesters.

“We’re trying to keep people motivated and fueled,” said Deib, after he finished handing out a tray of wraps outside Barclays. “I definitely believe in the cause. As a Muslim, we truly believe in justice. We understand what racism feels like, especially after 9/11.

"We wanted to make it clear to the community what side we’re on.”

Uniformed police officers, in helmets with attached shields, lined the sidewalks of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues outside Barclays.

Nearly everyone in the crowd wore a mask, but there was no social distancing.

Later, large groups of protesters on bicycles and on foot marched by the Barclays Center in the middle of Flatbush Avenue, snarling traffic. Several NYPD officers, both on foot and in police vans, escorted the demonstrators.

Otherwise, officers outside Barclays appeared to take a hands-off approach before the 8 p.m. citywide curfew struck, not reacting when about a dozen men on ATVs drove by and did sustained wheelies — infractions that would normally get police action.

One demonstrator, holding his cellphone mere inches from a group of officers, appeared to try to bait them into an argument, but the officers ignored the man.

Another was banging on an unmarked police car in a procession following the demonstration zigzagging the Lower East Side. A siren sounded. A cop inside jumped out to chase him. He rushed into the crowd, and the cop gave chase.

“Let him go! Let him go!” a police supervisor said. “We’ll get him next time.”

The blended into the crowd, and pumped his fist.

After videos went viral of cops’ use of batons, pepper spray and other physical tactics on nonviolent protesters — many of which were witnessed by reporters — Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo promised investigations.

Asked on Friday how many arrestees had been injured, de Blasio said there had been “very few serious injuries, thank God,” and promised his staff would disclose the number later in the day.

But on Saturday afternoon, the NYPD’s Rich Esposito said that the press office “has not been able to obtain consolidated complete statistics as of yesterday. Those facts are collected across the city & have not been collated.” The NYPD had not provided the figures by Sunday.

But the vast majority of protesters were peaceful, handing out water and giving squirts of hand sanitizer to the crowd, including officers.

Police were deployed in large numbers but were not arresting people who violated the curfew, even after it went into effect at 8 p.m.

In lower Manhattan, about 1,000 protesters occupied the FDR Drive in the East Village and later moved peacefully around the village for hours.

In Chinatown, two women wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts stopped their car and started distributing water and masks for free to the crowd.

Late last night,  the crowd near Barclays Center dispersed organically.

Only police officers remained and a few people sitting on benches, seemingly enjoying the warm weather.  Still, protesters continued smaller, mobile demonstrations.

During a briefing with reporters Saturday to analyze demonstrations, arrests, violence and looting from May 28 through June 4, Deputy Commissioner John Miller — who oversees the department’s counterterrorism and intelligence operations — said that the extremist propaganda is being used to exploit the Black Lives Matter-driven protests.

“We have seen an uptick in propaganda output from some of the Jihadist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS, from violent anarchist extremist and also from racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists like white supremacists, neo-Nazis of all sorts,” said an NYPD official who has analyzed the intelligence.

Among the images used as incitement were recent photos of arson attacks on NYPD vehicles and a graphic released on May 28 that had the message “The Only Good Cop Is a Dead Cop.”  Police intelligence officials said certain anarchist groups have celebrating violence against cops and law enforcement vehicles.

Miller and other NYPD officials have voiced continuing concern about violence directed at the police. Miller made particular reference to an incident last week in which a cop in the 70th Precinct was allegedly stabbed by a suspect, who yelled the phrase “Alu Akhbar” three times in the attack.

The NYPD on Saturday identified the man as Dzenan Camovic, 20, of Brooklyn. He was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, robbery, assault of a police officer, criminal possession of a weapon and reckless endangerment.

Miller said the suspect's actions and background were being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force and could possibly result in additional federal terrorism charges.

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