BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Civil rights leaders and activists called on the NYPD to exercise restraint with protesters awaiting a verdict in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
The event at Barclays Center Sunday morning was led by Rev. Kevin McCall, who urged the police department to not use excessive force on demonstrators, as police had been criticized for doing during protests last spring in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.
“We saw with our very own eyes, individuals from the police department using excessive force,” McCall said of the clashes between police and protesters last year. “Not just using excessive force but committing crimes right in front of our eyes … There was video [of] officers hitting people.”
McCall referenced a demonstration organized last spring in Cadman Plaza that saw 50,000 people turn out to honor Floyd and peacefully march for justice across the Brooklyn Bridge.
“And we were peaceful. Individuals just walking down screaming ‘no justice, no peace,’ just pushed to the ground,” he said about officers’ treatment of protesters during the march.
Following weeks of violent clashes between police and protesters — many of which were caught on video — in the wake of Floyd’s death last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the NYPD’s tactics.
In January, the attorney general’s office sued the NYPD, calling the rough treatment of protesters part of a longstanding pattern of abuse that stemmed from inadequate training, supervision and discipline.
The lawsuit highlighted dozens of examples of alleged misconduct during the Floyd demonstrations, including the use of pepper spray and batons on protesters, trapping demonstrators with a technique called kettling and arresting medics and legal observers.
“That goes to show you there’s a problem in New York City with police and using excessive force,” McCall said of the attorney general’s actions.
The reverend said that whatever happens with the Chauvin trial verdict, which could come as early as this week, he and fellow activists will not allow the police to stop them from peacefully protesting.
“We are going to organize massive demonstrations, massive civil disobedience, we are going to disrupt this city if we don’t get justice,” McCall said. “Respect goes both ways, but you have to respect us to give us the right to protest.”
Closing arguments in the Chauvin trial are expected to take place Monday.
The NYPD instructed its officers on Friday not to take unscheduled days off until further notice. The NYPD said the order was “necessary in order to satisfy personnel requirements for any post-Derek Chauvin verdict protests.”
This story comprises reporting from The Associated Press.