At a virtual hearing on policing during protests, a 20-year-old woman shoved by a cop in a now-viral video asked the New York Attorney General where were the "good cops" the night she was badly injured during a Brooklyn demonstration.
Dounya Zayer, 20, testified about her experience being pushed down by the officer—and the ongoing medical issues and emotional pain that have followed—during day one of hearings led by state attorney general Letitia James as part of her investigation into the NYPD's response to demonstrations against racist police violence.
But when Zayer finished her testimony, James tried to reassure her that the cop who hurt her doesn't reflect most of the NYPD.
'"I'm sorry for your incident," James said. "I just want you to know the officers involved fortunately really don't reflect the vast majority of the officers in the NYPD."
But Zayer questioned why other officers didn't step in when she suffered a head injury and had a seizure.
"I've seen many other protesters be severely injured, and again, nobody reacts when the protester gets injured," she said. "I understand there are good cops. But where was the good cop to help me? Where was the good cop for George Floyd? Where was the good cop for Brad Levi Ayala, who got shot in the head with a rubber bullet, and not a single officer came to help him? Where are the good cops that I keep hearing of?"
"Thank you for your sympathy, but I don't wanna hear that there are good cops when not a single good cop helped me," Zayer said.
James replied, "I understand your pain, and I hope that in time you'll understand that the purpose of this hearing is to get to the bottom of this and try to reform the system and specifically the NYPD."
On May 29th, Zayer said she was peacefully protesting when police began "stampeding" the protesters. She was told to get out of the street, and as she was backing away, she asked why. In response, Officer Vincent D'Andraia of the 73rd Precinct, called her a "stupid fucking bitch" and then pushed her down, resulting in her injuries.
"I flew out of my shoe and smacked the back of my head on the concrete," she said. "Since then, I have had concussion, I'm nauseous. My back hurts. I've had consistent migraines." Now she's fearful of going outside to protest in case police see her.
D'Andraia faces assault charges and was suspended, but not fired, from the force. A commanding officer seen in the video, Craig Edelman, has since been transferred.
During her testimony, she told James she wants to see them fired.
"This was physically, emotionally, mentally overwhelming," Zayer said. "Where the hell is the humanity in watching the officers assault a human for no reason?"
Zayer was assisted by fellow protester Whitney Hu the evening she was hurt.
"I saw [Zayer] fly back and hit her head on the ground," Hu testified. "He had thrown her for no other reason besides he was angry."
Hu, a South Slope resident, also said she treated 15 people severely maced and beaten with batons at a protest in Flatbush, even had to hold a teenager who was crying over what they had seen.
"It felt like warfare," she said.
When Hu assisted with jail support in the days that followed, she said she saw released detainees dehydrated and untreated for dislocated elbows, broken hands, and head wounds. Hu urged the attorney general to recommend defunding and abolishing police departments, noting it's not enough to investigate and fire officers and reform departments.
More than 1,000 people watched the hearing on Wednesday. Along with James, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Policing Project director Barry Friedman, who are assisting James in the investigation as special advisors, questioned protesters as a part of the state probe into the handling of the protests.
Protesters testified about police charging at protesters, covering their badges, pushing journalists, and swinging batons. When asked if protesters provoked police to take aggressive action towards them, most testified they saw no physical attacks, just yelling at officers. Few testified that a water bottle, empty or filled, may have been thrown at police during some protests.
One protester said police pepper sprayed him from several feet away in a "panoramic" motion at the Barclays Center.
"They sort of just charged at us and chased us up a very narrow side street," Sarah Skelton, who protested May 29th near Fort Greene Park, testified. "I was pretty frazzled."
South Bronx teacher Chantel Johnson recalled being kettled and beaten at the notoriously brutal Mott Haven protests on June 4th, where she saw officers she recognized personally. An 8 p.m. curfew imposed by the city was still in effect that night.
"We begged to go home," Johnson said. "Exactly at 8:05 p.m., we started to get hit with batons."
"I just can't unsee what I saw. It just wasn't right. We didn't do anything wrong," Johnson said. "It was a mess. Blood everywhere. My mask had blood all over it."
She added, "How do I explain [to my students] that we were peaceful and we were abused and attacked? How do I explain that? I can't justify that behavior."
Callie Gerber, a Clinton Hill nurse who protested in Brooklyn on May 29th, saw an ambulance get blocked by officers, forcing a young man she was assisting to wait another 20 minutes for emergency medical services.
"It is disheartening but not surprising that protests against police violence have been met with police violence," she said. "I did not see anything being thrown at police or any aggression other than the teenagers who did climb onto the police van, which was undamaged and we [the protesters] were able to get [them] to come down off the van."
Gerber was pushed back by an officer's shield, saw baton beatings and flashbangs, and ultimately went home to wash blood off her from protesters she had medically assisted.
James said so many people had signed up to testify that a second day of hearings would be held Thursday at 11 a.m.
"Peaceful protest is a basic civil right. That right must be protected and guarded," James said during her opening remarks. "While George Floyd’s death may have lit the spark for change, it is just the latest list of racially charged killings of African Americans."
"This never-ending cycle of needless death has awakened the conscious of America and indeed the entire world. This is a defining moment in the history of our nation. We take this investigation and its underlying causes very seriously," she said.
James is expected to release a final report on the NYPD's handling of the protests by the end of the month.
You can keep watching the hearing here.