NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — There were several testy exchanges made during a City Council hearing Friday on racial disparities in social distancing enforcement.
“You know I would rather be doing something else one of Friday before Memorial Day but, unfortunately, we're here because of the actions of the NYPD,” said Queens Councilman Donovan Richards, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety.
NYPD data shows the majority of 311 social distancing complaints between mid-March and mid-May came from white neighborhoods, but 80% of the summonses and arrests were given to blacks and Hispanics.
With this information, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson demanded the NYPD release information on where it deploys officers.
“There is another fundamental question that needs to be asked: Why does the NYPD have to do this at all? Social distancing is at its core a public health issue,” Johnson said.
The NYPD has been patrolling New York City streets in recent weeks to ensure social distancing measures are being followed. They have also been a number of arrests, some of which sparked complaints over their violent nature.
Early in May, an NYPD officer was caught on video pointing a stun gun at a man and violently taking him to the ground over an alleged social-distancing violation. The officer has since been stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk duty, pending an internal investigation.
Following that arrest, four of New York City's five district attorneys vowed not to prosecute social distancing arrests.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Oleg Chernyavsky, however, says the overwhelming majority of interactions have been positive.
“Nobody in the police department is saying ‘wear a mask’ at gunpoint,” he said. “The fact that somebody has a gun or has a badge and that somehow changes the message, that's not what's being used to convey the message.”
Chernyavsky says the NYPD has handed out over 400,000 masks and enforcement is a last resort.