New York City police chief blames protesters for 'worst rioting' in years

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea speaks at a news conference. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea testified on Monday (June 22) that his officers had been attacked with bricks, knives, trash cans and bottles during recent protests against racial injustice, saying it was some of the "worst rioting" in the city for years.

Mr Shea's testimony was part of a series of online public hearings held by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is investigating the police response to widespread protests following last month's killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

Last week, scores of protesters testified that New York Police Department officers kicked or shoved them, hit them with night sticks, doused them with pepper spray or cuffed wrists so tightly that hands turned blue.

In his opening statement, Mr Shea called protesting on the streets a "tradition that is as old as New York" but said the recent demonstrations were different.

"This was some of the worst rioting that occurred in our city in recent memory," he said.

More than 300 officers have been injured since the start of the protests in late May, Mr Shea said, although it was unclear how many injuries were caused by attacks by civilians.

He has promised that officers found to have breached the department's standards in using force against New Yorkers will face consequences.

Ms James opened her investigation in late May at the request of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had said he was alarmed by "disturbing violent clashes" between NYPD officers and protesters.

Much of the testimony that she has received so far focuses on police using force against protesters, arresting journalists, medics and other so-called "essential workers", and criticism that many officers refused to wear face coverings amid the coronavirus pandemic, Ms James said.

In 17 hours of testimony last week, many protesters, including elected officials, said the protesters were largely peaceful and found themselves being arrested or hurt by the police with minimal provocation.

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