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 names 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.
“Like thousands of others across the City, the country, and the world, Mr. Smith peacefully took to the streets to protest the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and this country’s history of racialized police violence,” said LDF Senior Counsel Raymond Audain. “The assault on Mr. Smith was part and parcel of the violent, repressive response to the protests against police brutality.”
On July 14 2020, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF),