New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday denounced violence against police and urged prosecutors to charge looters with crimes that come with bail to keep them from hitting the streets shortly after arrest and resuming their crime spree.
Speaking at his daily briefing on June 4, Cuomo called instances of violence against police “intolerable,” describing a situation the night before when two NYPD officers suffered gunshot wounds to their hands and one was ambushed and stabbed in the neck.
“The police are doing an impossible job. They’re trying to deal with the protesters. They’re trying to stop looting. And they’re trying to keep themselves safe because the police want to go home to their families,” Cuomo said.
The officers are expected to recover, and the FBI has launched an investigation into what William Sweeney, head of the FBI’s New York office, condemned as a “cowardly attack on the NYPD.”
Cuomo said “there is no tolerance against violence against a police officer. Period,” before calling on New York City district attorneys to act on what he said was plentiful evidence of criminal activity and “charge crimes appropriately.”
Over the past week, looters and vandals have engaged in a spate of smash-and-grab thefts, targeting both big box stores and small businesses.
“You have scenes of looting that are on videotape that are indefensible and inexcusable. Looting is criminal activity, number one,” Cuomo said. “Looting is exploiting this situation with the protests. They know that the police are going to be busy with the protesters. They’re then using that as an opportunity to loot.”
“If you have looters who are using rocks, breaking windows, stealing, these people should be charged for the crime they are committing and bail set,” the governor added. “I understand the political environment. I also understand that the law is the law.”
The governor’s comments come after reports that looters in New York City were being arrested only to be released shortly after without bail, a situation Cuomo denounced as “nonsensical.”
In an interview with the New York Post on Tuesday, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said most of the suspects arrested after a looting spree Monday night and early Tuesday morning would be “back out.”
“But when it comes to a burglary, which is a commercial store, which is looting, they’re back out,” he said.
Under New York state law, second-degree burglary, which carries a bail option, can be charged when a suspect “uses or threatens the immediate use of a dangerous instrument.”
Cuomo, a former assistant prosecutor, urged prosecutors to charge looters with second-degree burglary, rather than burglary in the third-degree, a softer, bail-free option.
“The DA should charge these looters,” Cuomo said. “They should charge them with Burglary 2 and they should be held and set bail.”
Some district attorneys refuted Cuomo’s claim that looting qualified for more serious charges.
In a statement cited by Fox 5 New York, the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York said, “The notion that District Attorneys can charge Burglary 2 in cases where individuals throw rocks through windows of closed businesses to loot is not supported by New York State’s penal law.”
A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance told CBSNewYork, “To date, the overwhelming majority of looting cases in Manhattan cannot be charged as Burglary in the Second Degree.”
Melissa DeRosa, a top Cuomo aide, said that while some prosecutors may be reluctant to bring tougher charges, she insisted it’s an option.
“I understand some of the district attorneys may feel uncomfortable charging that [looting] as burg 2, because traditionally they charge that as burg 3,” DeRosa told the New York Post. “But they have the tools available to them.”
A spokesperson for the Bronx District Attorney’s office, cited by Fox 5 New York, said that its prosecutors have so far charged 58 people with second-degree burglary and 28 people on misdemeanor charges related to theft and vandalism.
Earlier, Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark issued a statement in which she called George Floyd’s death during an arrest by the Minneapolis Police “outrageous and unnecessarily tragic,” but insisted violent protests were not the way to honor his memory.
“His family deserves justice and his memory must be honored,” Clark said. “The reaction to Floyd’s violent death should not be violence. Damaging property and physical violence in our communities does nothing more than hurt us where we live and work.”