Watch CBS News

Police chief says he doesn't "believe racism plays a role" in NYPD, as protesters fill streets

NYC cops "paying the price" for MN killing
NYPD chief discusses where to draw the line with protesters 05:47

The top uniformed officer in the New York City Police Department said he understands the anger driving protests across the United States following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. On Monday afternoon, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan kneeled in solidarity with protesters.

But he denounced looting, which marred another day of peaceful demonstrations in the city Monday as many ignored a new curfew. Monahan also said he doesn't believe racism plays a role in the NYPD.

"What happened in Minnesota was an outrage, completely and totally. But 800,000 law enforcement officers around this country are paying the price for what that guy did in Minnesota," Monahan told "CBS This Morning" co-host Tony Dokoupil.

Monahan said he understands the protesters' anger. 

"Protest, yell, scream, let your rage out, but don't take your rage out on the community, destroy the businesses that actually employ members of this community," he said.

After violence erupted over the weekend, Monahan and the nearly 40,000 officers he oversees geared up for more protests. Describing the line between a peaceful protest and out of control, he said, "bottles and rocks thrown at my cops, windows being broken, stores being looted ... got no place in American society."

But in recent days, tempers have flared, and the NYPD has faced criticism for some of the responses by officers.

"You have to look at the entire incident. You have to look at the rocks being thrown, the injuries to my officers, what happened before, what precipitated that event," Monahan said. "Knowing that we had a commanding officer trapped in his car, his last transmission was, 'This may be my last transmission,' dragged out of that car. This is what's going through a cop's mind as he gets surrounded."

As Monahan checked in with his team Monday afternoon, things remained peaceful.

Responding to a theory that when the NYPD armors up and looks like the military, that's when protesters get wild, Deputy Chief John D'Adamo said, "No, it's usually reactive. Usually, we're going to suit up after we say that the temperature has gone up. Okay? If they're yelling and screaming, that's fine. But when bottles start coming, I gotta put the helmets on. I gotta get the shields out to protect my guys."

The show of force is hard to miss for protesters like Shataysha Byrd.

"I am devastated. I am disgusted. We just want justice for our people. The same how anyone else would. It's all we care for," she said.

Byrd said she doesn't believe the police when they say that they want to have a light touch and de-escalate. 

"I mean, you see them behind us, right? I came today in flip-flops, ripped jeans and a shirt. I have no need or no desire to want to fight, to want to get pepper-sprayed down, to want to be tied, but I am prepared because I will fight for my people by any means necessary," she said.

Monahan said he believes the "vast majority" of people causing trouble are coming from outside of New York.

"We have a lot of encouragement from outsider agitators telling people to go out and cause mayhem in the city, ... using, I think, this movement for an agenda to end policing throughout the country, an anarchist agenda," Monahan said. "That's what they do. All the signs that you see is defund policing, no more police."

As Monahan watched things unfold from the ground, Deputy Chief Edward Mullane had a different view from the surveillance cameras feeding into a command center at police headquarters.

"This is mob mentality. This has nothing to do with peaceful protests, trying to right injustice," Mullane said.

Asked about the people walking peacefully down the street, Mullane told Dokoupil, "We don't like people walking in the middle of the street. We like the rights of everybody else who wants to drive in Manhattan."

But many Americans clearly believe this is the way to get attention as they press for systemic change.

"What role does racism play in these outcomes where you have black men dying at a greater rate than other populations at the hands of police?" Dokoupil asked Monahan.

"I don't believe racism plays a role in New York. I can only speak for what I've seen in New York City," Monahan said.

"And yet, you've got these outcomes. And if those protesters heard you say that racism doesn't play a role, that's why they're here. That's why they're angry. They don't think you get it," Dokoupil said.

"I would never say that we are a racist police department. Absolutely not. Have incidents happened? Maybe there was a racist incident, something, and that person has been removed from this agency? Absolutely," Monahan said. "We all care about the communities we work in. We care deeply in the minority communities, the cops that work there, each and every day."

Monahan said officers in his department frequently face repercussions for inappropriate actions. He said over 100 cops are fired in New York City every year.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.