A protester who had his protective mask ripped off his face by an NYPD officer before he was pepper-sprayed said that despite the horrible experience, what happened doesn’t shock him.
Andrew Smith was protesting peacefully in Brooklyn on Saturday, one of thousands voicing their anger toward the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The demonstrators flooded the streets, coming toe-to-toe with the NYPD.
Smith said he didn’t say or do anything to the officer on the street that could have provoked the incident. He said his experience as a black man had taught him to be wary of sudden movements around police, so he kept his arms up – but got sprayed anyway.
“At a certain level I come to expect the police to do things that things that they shouldn’t do,” Smith said, adding there should be “grave consequences” for the officer who sprayed him, more than “just a slap on the wrist.”
He said that he still can’t shake the pain he felt.
“It felt like a searing pain, also because we were in the sun,” Smith said. He and his attorneys want the unnamed cop to face criminal charges, civil consequences and they are demanding the department make training changes.
“Maybe we can change not again to never again,” said attorney Alain Massena.
The NYPD is reviewing the incident, one of several officer-protester clashes over the past week. New York Attorney General Letitia James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez are both looking into the matter as well, along with many others. NYPD Commissioner said that he expects suspensions or even departmental trials could be coming for the officers who have been violent toward the peaceful protesters.
Smith is now self-quarantining, afraid that officer’s actions may have exposed him to coronavirus.
“We think its egregious in the middle of a pandemic to yank off someone’s personal protective equipment,” said Kareen Vessup, who also represents Smith.
Smith said what happened to him hasn’t dampened his spirits, and is thankful for the medics in the crowd who came to his aid. He is also grateful that there are still so many more protesters out there, continuing their fight for equality and justice.