State legislators Assemblywoman Diana C. Richardson (D, WFP-Brooklyn) and Senator Zellnor Y. Myrie (D, WFP-Brooklyn) on Monday filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York against the New York Police Department (NYPD) for allegedly violating their free-speech rights.
Richardson ands Myrie joined protestors in Brooklyn following the deaths of George Floyd and, according to their attorney Sean Hecker, a partner with Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, “had hoped that their close, positive working relationships with local police precincts and with their constituents would promote peace and respect between the police and protestors. Instead, they were met with violence at the hands of the NYPD: they were pepper-sprayed, hit repeatedly with [police] bikes and, in Senator Myrie’s case, falsely arrested.”
The lawsuit also names the City of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison, and certain known and unknown NYPD officers as defendants.
“On May 29, 2020, I stood in the streets of Brooklyn with my constituents to voice outrage after the murder of George Floyd added yet another tragic chapter to the long history of police brutality against Black citizens. My community and I were in grief and pain, and I sought to add my voice to the chorus of protest, standing in solidarity as the community called for police accountability for violence against Black citizens,” said Myrie, who represents the 20th Senate District in Central Brooklyn.
“At the same time, I felt I had an obligation to try to mediate and keep the peace between citizens and the police, given the large police presence and the intensity of the community’s pain,” added Myrie whose grandmother hailed from Jamaica. “Yet, instead of being given a chance to mediate as peacemaker, I, too, became a victim of violence by the police department.”
Richardson, who represents the 43rd Assembly District, also in Central Brooklyn, said: “Like so many of my fellow New Yorkers, I took part in a peaceful protest against the killing of George Floyd and the lack of accountability of police departments across this country for their use of excessive force, particularly against Black and brown Americans.
“As an elected official with close, positive relationships with local police officers, I fully expected those tasked with keeping the peace on May 29 to observe, intervene only if necessary and generally protect the rights of New Yorkers to make their voices heard,” said Richardson, the daughter of Aruban and St. Martin immigrants. “Instead, I and many of my constituents were beaten with bicycles and pepper sprayed.
“I will not allow yet another incidence of excessive force against Black Americans by police officers to be swept under the rug,” she added. “I have the ability and the obligation to hold the police who violated my constitutional rights accountable.”
To accomplish this goal of accountability, the lawsuit requests, among other things, a court order requiring the NYPD to reform its policies and practices to prevent the use of tactics that lead to excessive force, like “kittling” and hitting protesters with bikes, and invade citizens’ constitutional right to free speech, including by protesting police brutality and racial injustice.
“With this lawsuit, we will shine a light on the injustices Black Americans have suffered at the hands of police for far too long,” Richardson said. “We seek accountability; we seek change; we seek justice. And we will keep fighting until we get it.”
Myrie said that he and Richardson filed the lawsuit with two aims in mind: “To vindicate the personal violation of our rights as citizens who were abused by the police; and as elected representatives of the community, who seek to ensure the police department is held accountable by making real policy change to ensure citizens’ constitutional rights are not disregarded this way in the future.”
Requests for comment from the NYPD were referred to the City Law Department, which defends the city in lawsuits.
“The NYPD has a longstanding track record of successfully protecting the right of the public to protest while ensuring public safety, and is committed to strengthening those efforts,” said Law Department spokesperson Nick Paolucci in a statement. “We will review these claims.”
-Ben Brachfeld contributed to this story