Brooklyn lawmakers maced by police at George Floyd protests promote law enforcement reform package

Assemblywoman Diana Richardson and Chloe, a protester who helped her when police pepper sprayed her at a George Floyd protest.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

A Brooklyn state legislator said her recent experience of police macing her and another politician at a protest has emboldened her to bring about police reform.

“Just last week myself and [State Senator Zellnor] Myrie were pepper sprayed by the NYPD and while I’m emotionally and psychologically bruised, we must all continue to push back,” said Crown Heights Assemblywoman Diana Richardson at a rally at Grand Army Plaza on June 4.

Cops pepper sprayed her and Myrie and handcuffed the latter lawmaker at a May 29 protest at Barclays Center decrying the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, and Richardson recalled at the Thursday gathering how a Good Samaritan saved her from the fray.

“When I was pepper sprayed and I could not see and I could barely breathe, I didn’t know what I was going to do. But by the grace of God, a stranger pulled me away from the police,” she said of a woman named Chloe. “In Chloe’s mind, she was just doing what she had to do for somebody in distress, but in my heart and in my lifetime, I will always be so grateful to you.”

Myrie said that police cuffing him signified the larger issues of racism in the country’s law enforcement.

“Last Friday, me and Assemblymember Richardson went to Barclays to protest in peace and our peace was met with pepper spray — and that’s not unique to us,” he said. “We are high profile so people pay attention, but brutality is not unique to us. In fact it is in the DNA of this country.”

Police officers detained Crown Heights State Senator Zellnor Myrie during the May 29 “I can’t breathe” vigil and rally in Brooklyn.REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Both pols, along with about a dozen of their colleagues in Albany’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, promoted a package of bills aimed at reforming law enforcement across the Empire State at the presser.

“Police departments across this country and especially right here in New York City, have been allowed to nurture hate, protect wrongdoing, and support a culture of racism that has been baked into their policy,” said Clinton Hill Assemblymember Tremaine Wright, who chairs that caucus. “These policies have been killing us, steadily killing us, as proven by the steady chorus of names we chant every time we come together to mourn the loss of another unarmed, defenseless black person.”

Out of the package’s 13 bills, 11 were introduced in 2019 and reintroduced at the beginning of 2020. Two of the laws were introduced for the first time this January.

They include a proposal to repeal 50-a, a controversial section of the state’s Civil Rights Law that shields police personnel records from public review.

The lawmakers are also pushing legislation establishing outside investigators for police misconduct cases, criminalizing chokeholds, requiring state police and Metropolitan Transportation Authority police to wear body cameras, banning racial or ethnic profiling by law enforcement, and the addition of making false 911 calls to the state’s list of hate crimes

During the press conference, a group of counter-protesters tried to interrupt the speakers, calling for them to go further by defunding or even abolishing the police, according to one Bedford-Stuyvesant educator.

“I came here today specifically because these black and brown leaders are supposed to represent the interests of the people like me and my community and these proposals, these reforms that they alluded to here today are good but they don’t go nearly far enough to actually improve people’s lives on the ground,” said Tanesha Thomas, who teaches at Brooklyn College and Medgar Evers College. “So while they’re standing here on their platform, I want them to hear it that there’s a lot of sh– they could be doing better.”

Tanesha Thomas said the politicians should go further by defunding police departments.Photo by Kevin Duggan

Following the rally, protesters peacefully marched for miles around the borough through Downtown Brooklyn, Prospect Heights, Flatbush, and back, before dispersing around 10 pm. 

The full list of the bills, their bill numbers, and sponsors are:

  1. Repeal of 50-a | A.2513/S.3695 (O’Donnell/Bailey)
  2. False 911 Complaints | A.3566 (Ortiz/Benjamin)
  3. Office of the Special Prosecutor | A.1601a/S.2574a (Perry/Bailey)
  4. Police STAT Act | A.5472/S.1830b (Lentol/Hoylman)
  5. Right to Monitor Act | A.1360a/S.3253 (Perry/Parker)
  6. Local Independent Oversight of Police | S.7527 (Richardson/Myrie)
  7. Medical Attention for Persons Under Arrest | A.8226/S.6601 (Fernandez/Bailey)
  8. Establishes the Crime of Strangulation | A.6144/S.6670a (Mosley/Benjamin)
  9. Failure to Obtain Medical Care | A.3056b/S.4076 (Fernandez/Biaggi)
  10. Bans Racial/Ethnic Profiling by Police | A.4615/S.1137A (Bichotte/Benjamin)
  11. Reducing Arrests for Non-Criminal Offenses | A.4053/S.2571 (Aubry/Bailey)
  12. Body Cameras for NYS Police | A.8674/S.6686 (Walker/Parker)
  13. Body Cameras for MTA Police | A.8943a/S.06793a (Reyes/Ramos)