For two Queens lawmakers, swearing, pointing the middle finger, and holding up signs with inappropriate language written on them –– especially when directed at law enforcement –– have no place in public hearings.
City Councilmembers Robert Holden (D-Queens) and Eric Ulrich (R-Queens) released a statement on Thursday, with the support of multiple law enforcement unions, condemning the use of vulgar language and obscene gestures by members of the public during Tuesday’s virtual New York City Council Committee on Public Safety hearing.
“The hearing descended into vile, cop-hating rhetoric that was completely unproductive and dangerous,” said Holden. “Some of this would never have been allowed in the Council Chambers or any other legislative body, but it is somehow now acceptable on Zoom hearings.”
They said that the hateful language being directed at the New York City Police Department was inappropriate and that the language used should not be tolerated towards anyone, including law enforcement.
“No member of law enforcement or the City Council should ever be subjected to this type of harassment and verbal abuse during an official proceeding,” said Ulrich.
The nearly 10-hour long hearing which focused on police reform was held in the midst of a weeks-long nationwide protest concerning over policing following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis after a police officer pinned him down by the neck. It was held virtually over Zoom due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with lawmakers and city residents calling in from their bedrooms, couches, and kitchen tables.
The vast majority of people who spoke read respectfully from statements and refrained from cursing while they expressed their criticisms of the NYPD. Many told personal stories about their experiences with police officers in the city. One young man sat on his couch with his arm in a sling, the result of an encounter with an officer at a protest just days before he said.
While they were in the minority, some people who spoke did swear at both the department and city council.
One woman, who spoke about five hours and 30 minutes into the hearing, called out Holden specifically for a tweet he posted during the hearing about police officers who were killed in the line of duty which said, “Words matter. Inciting hostility toward the NYPD can have tragic consequences.” She used multiple variations of the f-word and directed her comments at the NYPD as well as at Holden.
When asked how much this direct attack influenced the release of Thursday’s statement, a spokesperson for Holden wrote in an emailed response, “Personal attacks are part of the job and do not influence the Councilman’s actions in any way.”
In the statement, Ulrich requested that City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen) create a set of guidelines for how the public participates in virtual hearings.
The Speaker declined to comment for this story and would not say whether he would consider issuing rules for public participation in future hearings over Zoom. Chair of the Committee on Public Safety Councilmember Donovan Richards (D-Queens) did not respond to request for comment.
The presidents of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, the Lieutenants’ Benevolent Association, the Captains’ Endowment Association. The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, the New York State Court Officers’ Association and the Police Benevolent Association lauded Council Members Holden and Ulrich for speaking out.
“The vile anti-cop circus in Tuesday’s Committee on Public Safety hearing is just further proof that the Council’s leadership isn’t interested in public safety,” said Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch. “More than a dozen New Yorkers were shot on Monday night. On Tuesday morning, they were busy grandstanding and playing to the mob in the street. We thank Council Members Holden and Ulrich for speaking up against this lunacy.”