Smith v. New York

Date Filed: 06/01/2021

Smith v. City of New York

Protecting Protestors From Police Violence

On June 1st, 2021, Andrew Smith – who is represented by LDF, Massena Law, P.C., The Vessup Law Firm, and the Initiative for a Just Society – sued the City of New York for race discrimination, police brutality, and violating his right to free speech. Mr. Smith, who is Black, was attacked by a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer during one of the 2020 racial justice protests around New York City. The officer confronted Mr. Smith, forcibly removed Mr. Smith’s mask – which he was wearing to protect himself and others from COVID-19 – and sprayed him in the face with pepper spray. The officer did not confront or forcibly remove the masks of white protesters near Mr. Smith. Video of Mr. Smith’s assault went viral.

The officer assaulted Mr. Smith, a young Black man, but chose not to assault nearby white protesters who, like Mr. Smith, were standing with their hands raised. In addition to causing Mr. Smith to suffer great physical pain and discomfort, this assault loomed large over his life for months as video of the assault went viral and officers wearing the same uniform as the NYPD officer patrolled Mr. Smith’s community in Brooklyn.

The NYPD has, for years, used unconstitutional, excessive force on peaceful protesters. The City of New York has long been aware of this pattern and practice, but has repeatedly failed to address it. NYPD continued to use violence with impunity throughout the historical summer of 2020. Images and videos of racial justice demonstrators beaten and bloodied at the hands of the NYPD flashed across television screens and spread through social media. Meanwhile, City officials openly applauded and praised the NYPD’s response to the racial justice protests. 

The complaint named the City, Mayor Bill De Blasio, the NYPD commissioner, and the police officer who attacked Mr. Smith.  It seeks damages and injunctive relief, and it alleges violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; New York’s constitution; and the City’s administrative code. 

On March 11, 2024, LDF Massena Law, P.C., the Vessup Law Firm, and the Initiative for a Just Society reached a settlement of $212,500 in Smith v. City of New York.

For years, the NYPD and law enforcement agencies across the country have used excessive force on peaceful protestors as a tactic to quell constitutionally-protected activity. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute recently issued a report documenting this disturbing pattern, finding that, during the summer of 2020, police responded more aggressively and violently at protests supporting racial justice and criticizing police violence. Specifically, police were 1.4 times as likely to make arrests and 3.8 times as likely to use pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bangs at racial justice protests compared to non-racial justice protests.

TMI Research Brief

Police and Protests

The Inequity of Police Responses to Racial Justice Protests

During the summer of 2020, there were also thousands of public demonstrations about issues other than racial justice, such as protests related to COVID-19 pandemic measures, labor movements, LGBTQ rights, political candidates, support for white nationalism, and more. We found striking disparities in police responses to protests in the summer of 2020. At racial justice demonstrations, police were more likely to be present, more likely to have an escalated presence (i.e., riot police, state police, or national guard), and more likely to escalate their response to include arrests, projectiles, and chemical weapons, compared to similar demonstrations unrelated to racial justice.

LDF has filed a number of lawsuits in cities across the country on behalf of peaceful protesters who faced military-type force and intimidation while demonstrating against police violence.  Learn more each lawsuit and our efforts to protect protestors: