As protesters across the country call for justice for George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis earlier this week, attorneys representing 33-year-old Donni Wright gathered at Brooklyn Supreme Court on Friday to file a $50 million lawsuit against the city for their client’s violent East Village arrest — one, activists say, that could’ve ended just like Floyd’s.
On May 2, officers from the New York City Police Department were seen on film forcing Wright — a bystander to a separate arrest — to the ground and repeatedly hitting him. Another officer then puts his knee to Wright’s neck and head for an extended period of time, before taking Wright in on charges of assault on a police officer and resisting arrest — neither of which can be seen on film.
According to the Police Department, officers were enforcing social distancing measures at Avenue D and E. Ninth Street when one allegedly spotted a bag of marijuana, leading to a scuffle. Officer Francisco Garcia, who can be seen restraining Wright with his legs in the video, has been placed on modified desk duty while the department continues its investigation, and charges against all three officers involved have been recommended by the Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
The incident, which sparked criticism of the department’s handling of arrests during the COVID-19 pandemic, was just one of many violent, on-camera arrests across the city — at least three of which are currently being investigated by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
But, Wright’s case in particular, activists said, mirrored the May 25 arrest that killed Floyd.
In a widely-circulated video, Officer Derek Chauvin can be seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for upwards of seven minutes, during which Floyd — who was being arrested on allegations of forgery and resisting arrest — can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe” and “don’t kill me.” He later died as a result of the violent arrest.
Authorities in Minnesota arrested Chauvin five days later for third-degree murder charges.
“We want to send a clear message that Donni Wright could have been dead today,” said Reverend Kevin McCall, founder of the Brownsville civil rights advocacy group Crisis Action Center. “Before we were calling George Floyd’s name, we could’ve been calling Donni Wright’s name.”
McCall, who was joined on the steps of Brooklyn Supreme Court by Wright and his family, as well as the family of Eric Garner, also announced a delegation that will go to Minneapolis on June 1 to stand in solidarity with Floyd’s loved ones, and with the 17-year-old girl who videotaped that incident.
“We’re sending a message of support,” McCall said, “that New York City is with them.”
Meanwhile, Wright’s lawyer, attorney Sanford Rubenstein, said the family’s monetary claim is just the “civil aspect” of the matter.
“We’re also calling, more importantly, on the district attorney of Manhattan to open a criminal investigation with regards to the actions of this police officer which we deem to be criminal,” he said. “We believe that the best deterrent to police killing victims is to have them prosecuted when they assault victims like this police officer assaulted Donni Wright here in New York City. Only when police officers are held accountable for their criminal acts will their injustice and their racism and their police brutality end in this country.”