Pepper-sprayed Brooklyn protester says cop was trying to incite violence

Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith (Courtesy Andrew Smith)

The cop pulled down the protester’s mask and blasted him with pepper spray — and soon the internet was abuzz with yet another example of a police officer’s abuse of power.
Andrew Smith, the man behind the mask, whose hands were in the air the whole time during the encounter Saturday in Brooklyn, said he believes the cop was trying to incite a peaceful situation.
“I would say this officer was more inclined to create an interaction with me and see how things went,” Smith, a Brooklyn native, told the Daily News Thursday.
“One, it’s unnecessary, and two, he initiated contact to then incite an issue, in my personal opinion, as he grabbed my face mask and then maced me.”
Video shows Smith peacefully protesting at the corner of Bedford and Tilden Aves. in Flatbush Saturday afternoon when the unidentified, helmeted officer yanked his face mask down and doused him with pepper spray.
The officer is heard on video telling protesters to step back to make room for an NYPD vehicle weaving its way through the crowd. Smith’s hands were clearly above his head in a hands-up pose when the officer confronted him.
“He actually sweeps forward, then comes back to me and then initiates contact,” Smith said.
“They’re definitely being aggressive with protesters, so I made sure my hands are exaggeratedly almost in a YMCA stance, to make clear that I’m not here to make an issue,”
"If you mace me, or off that initial touch, I slap your hand, or if you maced me and I lunged forward, then we have a whole other incident on our hands,” Smith, 31, said. “So I think his purpose was to incite something. I clearly had been peaceful.”
Police are looking into the incident. “We’re aware of the video, and it’s under internal review,” said an NYPD spokesman.
Smith’s younger brother shot the video, which has received more than 11.4 million views on Twitter. Originally, Smith had warned his brother not to accompany him to the protest for his own safety.
“I actually didn’t want him to come because I was just concerned about him, and he convinced me otherwise,” Smith said. “The running joke is now he has to go everywhere with me because clearly he needs to take care of me.”
Kareem R. Vessup, a lawyer representing Smith, said the entire incident is all the more appalling considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The officer had a mask on. He had personal protective equipment that he was wearing,” Vessup said. “The potential exposure that he caused to Mr. Smith exacerbates how egregious the officer’s conduct was, and it shows a certain level of indifference.”

The pepper spray incident didn’t stop Smith from going out to protest the next day.

“The day after, I went back out, not necessarily with vengeance or revenge,” Smith said. “My spirit’s strong. Being a black man in America, you got to have a strong spirit or it’s very depressing,

Smith has been self-quarantining since Tuesday, and plans to get tested for coronavirus.

“This could have gone somewhere else,’ Smith said. “But thankfully it didn’t.”

Smith and his brother were among the thousands of demonstrators protesting the police brutality death last week of George Floyd who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against his neck for more than eight minutes during a caught-on-camera arrest.

Smith said his encounter could have had a similar ending. He said he has been harassed by cops before, but this was by far the worst.

“It was horrendous," Smith said. "He violated my space. He violated my rights. But at the end of the day, I was able to walk away. I was able to walk home to my mother and my family. There are men and woman and children that have not gotten that opportunity.”

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