In the wake of ongoing demonstrations in New York and across the country over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged protesters in New York City to keep their actions peaceful and not to take out their anger on NYPD members.
De Blasio has condemned the killing of the man, calling the video "horrifying" during his morning press briefing.
But with thousands of New Yorkers assembling in the streets Friday and more expected over the weekend, the mayor held an impromptu press conference in the afternoon to address the rallies and remind New Yorkers that the city is still in the midst of a pandemic. More than 70 people were arrested Thursday evening during a protest in Lower Manhattan.
"I think, I think, I understand some piece of of the anger that you're feeling. I'm still beseeching you: We are still all in this together and you must protest peacefully," he said.
In a direct plea to activists, he added, "If you are angry with the government, if you're angry with the elected leaders, direct that anger to all of us, because if we haven't done enough, we are the ones who should be held responsible. But the police officer in front of you is a man or woman just trying to do their job. They did not create the policies, they did not create the pain."
During his press conference and in two interviews afterwards, Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke out against the pattern of police brutality against black Americans.
"This is not a new story," he said, speaking on MSNBC. "This is a continuing narrative. This is just another chapter in the book called injustice and inequality in America."
The video of George Floyd, 46, who died on Monday, resonated for many in New York City. Before he died, Floyd could heard pleading to the white police officer, “I can’t breathe," the same last words uttered by Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while being fatally choked by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in 2014. On Sunday, a viral video of a racist confrontation between a white dog owner and a black male bird watcher in Central Park also inflamed anger about the threats police pose to black men.
On Twitter, individuals posted images of crowds of protesters gathering at Foley Square. At one point, the group yelled in unison, "No justice, no peace."
Dermot Shea, the police commissioner who joined the mayor at the press conference, said that the NYPD had deployed thousands of officers to police the protests.
"Our goal is to allow people to peacefully assemble and voice their concerns," he said. "What we are asking everyone is to please exercise caution. Please let’s do this safely."
Photos on Twitter showed police officers lined up in front of the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, the site of a protest Friday evening.
Unlike his prior daily briefings from City Hall, de Blasio did not allow reporters to ask questions remotely. Only a handful of reporters showed up.
In the morning, the mayor was repeatedly pressed about how the death of Floyd compares to that of Garner. Daniel Panteleo, the police officer whose chokehold resulted in Garner's death, was fired last August, five years after incident occurred. For those five years, the mayor repeatedly refused to call for Pantaleo's firing.
Asked about whether the impassioned response from New Yorkers to the Minneapolis killing reflects their continued anger over the issue, de Blasio said, "We’ve clearly have not gone far enough. We have to keep showing that we are willing to take even greater steps."
The mayor didn't offer many specifics for how this will happen. "We're gonna teach our officers even more deeply the things we've been doing...We're also not gonna tolerate officers who can't live by those rules."