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Wounded, bruised protesters testify to decry New York City police violence

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dana Kopel testified that New York City police kicked her in the jaw and bound her wrists so tightly with zipties her hands turned blue, leaving one hand numb with nerve damage weeks after she marched through the Bronx to protest the killing of George Floyd.

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators scuffle with NYPD police officers as they try to march trough Times Square during a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in New York City, New York, U.S. June 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Jeffrey Castillo displayed cuts on his knees, bruises on his arms and a scar on his shoulder he said was caused after six officers knocked him off his bike while he chanted against police violence in Manhattan’s West Village.

One by one, some of the protesters who have filled city streets since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody in May described being injured by New York Police Department officers at a virtual public hearing called by state Attorney General Letitia James, which spilled into a second day on Thursday.

Michael Sternfeld said police knocked him and other protesters to the ground while chasing them out of a Brooklyn park on June 3 for defying an 8 p.m curfew, scenes that were captured in cellphone videos.

“Shame on you, to all the NYPD, for acting like childish bullies, a gang of cowards with weapons and shields to hide behind and badges to justify their action,” Sternfeld told the hearing, which was streamed online because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea have defended the NYPD’s response to protesters as mostly proportionate, saying misconduct was limited to isolated cases that were being investigated.

Both have pointed to several nights of looting that marked some of the earlier protests, widespread property damage and instances of protesters hurling projectiles at police officers, injuring them.

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In late May, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was alarmed by “disturbing violent clashes” between NYPD officers and protesters, and appointed James to investigate and produce a report within 30 days.

The hearing was a chance for protesters to share their anger with investigators at their treatment by police during protests that have become daily occurrences in New York and dozens of other cities after Floyd’s death.

James said she had received hundreds of written submissions from protesters and cellphone videos of armored police hitting people with batons and pepper spray.

Elected officials and civil rights groups also testified, the majority criticizing what they described as mostly unprovoked police aggression.

James said the NYPD and the Mayor’s office declined multiple invitations to participate in the public hearing.

The NYPD said in a statement it received no “formal invitation” to join but was cooperating with the investigation. The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

One officer, Vincent D’Andraia, was arrested and charged with assault after he was seen in videos calling Dounya Zayer, a protester in Brooklyn, a “bitch” before violently pushing her down, her head hitting the tarmac. He has pleaded not guilty.

Zayer testified that she suffered a seizure a few minutes later and protesters helped her get to a hospital while scores of officers walking by ignored her plight.

After her testimony, James appeared onscreen again to thank her, saying: “I just want you to know that the officers involved fortunately really don’t reflect the vast majority of the officers of the NYPD.”

Zayer replied with visible anger: “Thank you for your sympathy, but I don’t want to hear that there are good cops when not a single good cop helped me and I’m afraid to even leave my house now.”

Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Grant McCool