NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday called for a national ban on chokeholds and excessive force by police and said he was concerned violent protests triggered by the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis could hinder New York City’s reopening.
Cuomo also told a daily briefing that he was worried that demonstrations over the past few nights in response to George Floyd’s death could cause a spike in coronavirus infections, setting back efforts to tamp down its spread.
He called on citizens to use this moment of unrest to push politicians to make changes to improve society. He also urged independent investigations of police abuse.
Images from overnight showed looters ransacking a pharmacy and breaking into several luxury stores in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan after a day of sometimes tense protests across the city that led to hundreds of arrests.
“It’s not enough to come out and say ‘I’m angry, I’m frustrated,’” Cuomo said. “The protesters are making a point. But you have to add the positive reform agenda.”
Cuomo said some of the actions by New York City police officers during the protests were disturbing, citing a video widely shared online that showed a police car driving into a crowd and another showing a demonstrator getting pepper sprayed.
At the same time, Cuomo railed against people who were exploiting the protests to loot and vandalize, echoing other political leaders in saying that outsiders were in many cases instigating violent acts.
He said the violence would play into the hands of people who will use it to argue against progressive change.
“They will try to make it all about criminality, which I believe was a perversion of the protests,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said he would discuss with Mayor Bill de Blasio a possible curfew for New York City, such as those imposed in other cities. He said the unrest could complicate the city’s plans to start reopening on June 8.
De Blasio on Monday said demonstrations had been overwhelmingly peaceful and praised New York Police Department officers, saying he thought they had largely showed restraint.
But the mayor, who has faced criticism for his response to the protests, also condemned some of the NYPD’s actions, including an officer drawing his gun on protesters.
Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Steve Orlofsky