New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the City of New York and Mayor Bill De Blasio face a proposed class action lawsuit that alleges the parties “unlawfully imprisoned an entire city” by enacting a curfew from June 1 through June 8, 2020 amid widespread protests against police brutality.
The 34-page complaint alleges the defendants enforced the city-wide curfew in predominantly low-income, minority neighborhoods and in a manner that “predominantly and disparately impacted” New Yorkers based on “racial classifications.” According to the lawsuit, white affluent communities were “largely permitted to violate” the mandatory curfew orders without consequence.
The plaintiffs argue the defendants’ early-June curfew was “constitutionally unnecessary and unjustified,” as well as overly harsh and constricting, given that far less restrictive measures were readily available. The curfew was “not narrowly or rationally tailored” to the supposed purpose for which it was put in place, the complaint says, and served to allow New York City police officers to stop, search, seize and arrest without probable cause anyone found outside their homes regardless of whether they committed a crime.
In the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police, tens of thousands took to the streets nationwide to exercise their constitutional right under the First Amendment and demand change and accountability among law enforcement agencies, the lawsuit says. Protests and demonstrations began in New York City on May 28, as thousands across the five boroughs—the vast majority of whom were peaceful, the case stresses—rallied in support of Black and minority communities.
According to the lawsuit, while the defendants acknowledged—“albeit disingenuously,” the plaintiffs say—the need to protest as a means to address continuing and systemic racial disparities in law enforcement and the justice system, Governor Cuomo, Mayor De Blasio and the city overlooked the “overwhelmingly peaceful” demonstrations in favor of what the plaintiffs call the “tumultuous and confrontational moments” known to accompany mass demonstrations prompted by outrage over police violence.
The suit stresses, however, that “most observers,” in particular those actually living in New York City, recognized that incidents involving property destruction or theft were “isolated to a few small pockets in the City.”
“Specifically, there were reports that property destruction, vandalism, and looting occurred in the Bronx to stores on Fordham Road from Webster Avenue to Jerome Avenue, in Manhattan to stores on Sixth Avenue, in Herald Square, the Diamond District, and SoHo, and in downtown Brooklyn near the Barclay Center and outside of three police precincts,” the lawsuit reads.
Despite the “overwhelmingly non-violent” protests and demonstrations, the defendants took the “virtually unprecedented step” of implementing a city-wide curfew, which made it illegal for any resident to step outside their homes between 11:00 p.m. on June 1 and 5:00 a.m. on June 2, the lawsuit says. Thereafter, the defendants issued a second curfew order substantially identical to the first, but which extended and expanded the duration of the city’s confinement from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. from June 3 through June 8. The last time New York City was subject to a curfew was 1943, the suit says, when then-mayor Fiorello LaGuardia set a curfew to halt Harlem protests after police shot and killed a Black soldier.
The lawsuit draws a clear line, however, between the 1943 curfew and the circumstances under which this month’s confinement order was imposed.
“[U]nlike the present Curfew Orders, the 1943 curfew was imposed in connection with the deployment of the National Guard in order to curb race riots had already [sic] enveloped the neighborhood, claimed the lives of 6 individuals and injured 495,” the lawsuit reads. “Similarly, in 1943 New York City had a small fraction of the population of the City today, and the curfew was imposed solely in Harlem and it lasted for approximately one day.”
The plaintiffs allege the early-June New York City curfew was imposed without justification, on the basis of “non-descript claims” that the curfew was necessary to protect the City from “severe endangerment and harm” to residents’ health, safety and property. According to the complaint, the language of the curfew order itself contradicts what was actually taking place, as it was acknowledged that the escalation of some demonstrations were instigated by only “some persons” in a city of millions.
Per the lawsuit, there were approximately 1,000 arrests—250 per day—during the four days of protesting that preceded New York’s imposition of a city-wide curfew. In comparison, before the protests and the outbreak of COVID-19, there were more than 31,500 arrests made in New York City in January and February alone, an average of 536 per day, the plaintiffs add.
“In other words, before the ‘escalated’ demonstrations, millions of City residents went about their daily life without the necessity of a curfew despite the fact that the City was statistically at least 50% more dangerous – with more than twice the number of daily arrests – than it was during the Floyd protests.”
In all, the case claims that the fact the curfew was put in place amid widescale protesting—and that such a measure was never put in place to fight the spread of COVID-19—evidences the defendants’ intentions in confining millions of residents to their homes. From the complaint:
“As a result of defendants’ unconstitutional Curfew Orders, thousands of New Yorkers were deprived of their freedom of movement and assembly, freedom of speech and subjected to deprivations of liberty in the form of stops, searches, seizures, arrests, summonses, handcuffing, and criminal prosecution for doing nothing more than being outside of their homes in public after 8 p.m. and engaged in otherwise lawful activity. The enforcement of the Curfew Orders was visited primarily, predominantly, and impermissibly on Black and minority residents of New York City in violation of their constitutional guarantees of Equal Protection under the law.
As a result of defendants’ unconstitutional Curfew Orders, millions of New Yorkers were falsely imprisoned, deprived their freedom of movement, freedom of speech and unconstitutionally deprived of their liberty in the form of house arrest under threat of confrontation with police, search, seizure, arrest and/or criminal prosecution."