Dounya Zayer was at a Brooklyn protest against police brutality last month when she questioned an NYPD officer why he was forcefully ordering her off the street. Instead of answering her question, NYPD Officer Vincent D’Andraia violently shoved the 20-year-old to the ground before he called her a “stupid fucking bitch.”
“Officer D’Andraia insulted me—then assaulted me and then walked away proud of his action,” Zayer said Wednesday during a public two-day online hearing spearheaded by New York Attorney General Leticia James. “He never intended to arrest me. He never even looked back to make sure I was OK.”
Zayer was among dozens of New Yorkers expected to testify on Wednesday and Thursday about being beaten, arrested, and attacked by police officers during demonstrations spurred by the police killing of George Floyd.
The hearings are a part of an independent investigation by James’ office into the NYPD’s actions during the protests. At least 300 people signed up to testify or submitted written testimony.
While D’Andraia, 28, was charged last week with assault, harassment, criminal mischief, and menacing for the incident, Zayer spent much of her testimony on Wednesday demanding he be fired—instead of his current suspension.
“He committed a clear and cut assault in uniform,” Zayer said through tears, stating that she has suffered concussion, back pain, nausea, and is having trouble sleeping from the now-infamous assault caught on video. “Where the hell is the humanity in watching these officers assault a human?”
D’Andraia was monitoring a demonstration near Barclays Center when he allegedly told Zayer to get off the street. When she questioned the officer’s demand, he allegedly smacked her cellphone out of her hand and violently shoved her. She hit her head on the pavement and was hospitalized due to a seizure. The incident was captured on video.
James, who began the hearing by saying political protests are a “fundamental civil right,” apologized to Zayer for the ordeal and stressed D’Andraia’s actions didn’t reflect all NYPD officers.
Zayer, who said she is now afraid of the police, replied, “What about the dozens of officers who watched? Where was the good cop to help me? Where was the good cop for George Floyd? I don't want to hear there are good cops.”
Among the dozens of alleged victims of police violence, several members of Congress and police reform advocates also participated, speaking about what they witnessed and heard during the protests, and what they believed needed to change.
“I was among the protesters who were violently removed from Cadman Plaza,” Michael Sternfeld said, referring to a demonstration in Brooklyn on June 3. “There was no legitimate reason to use police violence on a peaceful demonstration speaking out about police violence.”
New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez testified that “every single New Yorker should be outraged” and compared the NYPD to an “occupied army.” Advocating for sweeping police reform, Velazquez said her constituents are “tired” of violence at the hands of law enforcement.
“People of color are tired of police violence,” Velazquez said. “They are also tired of the myriad ways racism impacts their lives.”
Whitney Hu, an organizer with South BK Mutual Aid, testified that she treated about 15 residents in one night who had been maced or hit with a baton by police. Among those harassed by authorities, she said, were people under the age of 18 and essential workers.
“They would grab anyone who wasn’t fast enough to run,” Hu said, adding that at one point she went to a Brooklyn jail to help some protesters and saw some residents who had been held for two days on low-level offenses. “Some had bleeding head wounds.”
Hu said she was present when D’Andraia allegedly assaulted Zayer. “He had thrown her for no other reason than that he was angry and she was an easy target,” Hu said.
The assaults also affected New Yorkers who did not participate in the demonstrations. On June 4, Matthew Gehring testified he was arrested alongside his wife, composer Shaina Taub, while standing on the street of their apartment building on the Upper West Side while cheering and recording an ongoing protest.
In video that went viral, Gehring and several other neighbors were seen watching a protest that continued past New York’s 8 p.m. curfew when several NYPD officers told the group to go back inside. Arguing with the unmasked officers, Gehring said he and his wife were suddenly arrested for “violating the Mayor’s orders” and taken to a station on the Upper West Side.
While the couple was released two hours later, Gehring said he was horrified by the situation—especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—which the officers seemingly did not take into account during the arrest.
“All I am asking for my government is to stop killing my neighbors,” Gehring, a writer and comedian, said Wednesday. “The time for action is now. The duty of the police is to protect and serve. Who are you protecting and serving—because it’s not New Yorkers.”
The hearing on Wednesday came hours after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced sweeping reform to the city’s police department. He said the city will “speed up” the disciplinary process for officers, creating “new standards” that will require the police commissioner to decide whether to suspend or modify an officer’s duties within 48 hours of an incident.
“We’re going to recognize this is a moment where the pain that people are feeling, the anger, the frustration, came out in a new and powerful way and change happened because those voices were heard,” he said. “Things have to change, they are changing, and they will change even more.”
He also announced that investigations by the Internal Affairs Bureau must be completed within two weeks. Charges against officers must be filed within 18 months for administration violations, but there will be no time limit to file criminal charges.
To enforce transparency, de Blasio also said that body camera footage will be retroactively released and all disciplinary records will be posted online.
“The policy takes effect immediately for everything that happens from today on,” he said, adding that all NYPD trial decisions will be released. In July, the city is set to post information for over 1,100 pending cases against officers, which will include their names and charges.