In a rare development, a New York police officer has been charged with assault, criminal mischief, harassment and menacing, after a viral video showed him violently shoving a peaceful protester to the ground as he shouted an expletive and a misogynistic slur. We speak with Dounya Zayer about the attack she faced during a protest against police brutality in Brooklyn on May 29 and how she suffered a seizure and was hospitalized with a concussion. We’re also joined by one of her attorneys, Tahanie Aboushi.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. A warning to our viewers: This next story contains graphic footage of police violence. Yes, we end today’s show here in New York City, where police officer Vincent D’Andraia has been charged with assault, criminal mischief, harassment and menacing, after video showed him violently shoving a peaceful protester to the ground as he shouted an expletive and a misogynistic slur at her.
Twenty-year-old Dounya Zayer was at a protest against police brutality at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on May 29th when she asked the officer why he was ordering her to get out of the street. He responded, again, by violently shoving her to the pavement. A bystander filmed as she was shoved, then rolled onto her side. She suffered a seizure, was hospitalized with a concussion.
For more, we’re joined by that young woman. Dounya Zayer joins us here in New York, accompanied by one of her attorneys, Tahanie Aboushi, who’s a civil rights lawyer and candidate for Manhattan district attorney.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dounya, I’m so sorry for what happened to you. We now have all seen this horrifying video, once again, as this police officer shoves you to the ground, forcing you against the curb. Your shoes fall off. Describe that day for us. What was taking place there?
DOUNYA ZAYER: I went to the protest on Friday night to show my support towards the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality. The protest was peaceful. The cops started stampeding towards the crowd. And I noticed that peaceful protesters were getting hurt. Like, it was a scene straight out of a horror movie, something that you wouldn’t expect. I knew how important it was to record things like that, so I took my camera out to started recording. And there’s a video on Twitter of the recording that I took, where I’m running backwards in the direction the officers are telling us to go to, and I’m trying to record while running backwards.
And Officer Vincent D’Andraia and his commander, Craig Edelman, they’re walking in my direction. And Vincent D’Andraia tells me to move, and I asked, “Why?” while still moving in the direction he was telling me to go to. And he smacked my phone out of my hand, and then he called me what he called me. And before I could put my arms up to block myself from the lunge I could see out of my peripheral vision, he shoved me very hard to the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, I’m going to show that video of you being shoved, for a particular reason, because we don’t like to repeat video, but I want people to be able to see, as he pushes you, he is not alone, as you said. He’s next to a commanding officer. And many others walk past you as this happens, in the same way we saw happen with Martin Gugino in Buffalo. And entire, it looked like, battalion walked past him, no one helping. So, the police officer pushes you down. You have all these other officers. Behind him is a white shirt — right? — a commanding officer, and they do nothing to help you. So, can you talk about what happened to you after?
DOUNYA ZAYER: After I hit my head, I was very confused and shocked. I was in a lot of pain. Like, the impact was hard. And other protesters were trying to help me get up, and they walked me to a nearby stairwell like five feet away. And I lose my memory at the stairwell, but that’s when I had the seizure. I didn’t have the seizure immediately after hitting my head; it was about five minutes later. And then I got sent to the hospital in an ambulance, and my memory comes around getting to the hospital.
It was a hard impact. And it was unprovoked and not expected, definitely not necessary. He called me a name. He wanted to hurt me. He was angry. I don’t know why. Maybe he has something against women, he has something against people protesting, something. But I was backing away from him, and I didn’t do anything to him. And he called me a name, and then he followed through by injuring me.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Tahanie Aboushi into the conversation. You’re a civil rights attorney.
TAHANIE ABOUSHI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of this video? Dounya, we asked you before if you minded if we played this. And can you talk about the effect it has on you, but your feeling about the significance of it? I mean, it’s unusual — there are so many things going on — that this was captured.
DOUNYA ZAYER: I have a love/hate relationship with the video. It’s important for videos to be taken, even when they’re graphic, even when they’re difficult to watch, because we live in a system that does not hold cops accountable. It takes everything in our power to hold them even 25% accountable compared to a regular person. And it’s only if you have 100% proof; you have to have a video. They will never, ever, ever punish a police officer for doing wrong unless you have a video. So I’m grateful that the video was taken. I’m grateful that it raises awareness on the situation. I’m grateful that it’s helping me attempt to get justice on the situation.
But the negative aspect of it is that there’s a video of me getting hurt, and people can watch it and laugh at it. They could enjoy watching me get hurt. They could have their own opinions on it. It’s difficult to have other people try to tell me that I — to tell me one thing or another regarding me getting assaulted. And it’s difficult to watch it. I can’t watch the video, especially the fact that it has gone as viral as it has. Again, I’m grateful that I’m getting an attempt of justice for the video. But when I’m scrolling through social media and I’m trying to not find myself being assaulted and then it just shows up right there, it’s not enjoyable.
AMY GOODMAN: Which is why we asked you before if it was OK to run your video, and horrifying as it is. Tahanie Aboushi, can you talk about the significance of what happened to Dounya Zayer and your years of representing people?
TAHANIE ABOUSHI: Yeah. So, I’ve been doing this work fighting against the use of excessive and deadly force for over 10 years in New York City. I know the NYPD Patrol Guide very well and how it plays out in the court system. And video is so important, because it takes a lot to force NYPD to not only cooperate and give up identity of the officers to hold them accountable, but it becomes a he said/she said. And we understand that in our city, a word of an officer is always taken with much more weight than that of the civilian, especially when they also have the power to arrest. And so the arrest becomes a question of integrity for the victim, and it’s very difficult to piece out in court, which can stretch out over a year or two years’ time.
But having the video for the world to see clearly memorializes what happens, and it records the actions of the officer and allows us to hold them accountable, and to pause it in certain moments and to ask, “What could you have done differently here?” or “What was the provocation and thought process here?” as opposed to it getting jumbled up behind this, “Oh, it’s this massive agency. We don’t know what happened. It was dark,” and all these other distractions that take away from holding an officer accountable, which is what the city has shied away from doing. But I have dedicated my career to holding law enforcement accountable and to getting the city to face these questions from families and from people like Dounya, who now are expected to just go home and act like nothing happened, and live with this trauma for the rest of their life.
AMY GOODMAN: Dounya, what do you want to see happen right now? The officer has been charged with various levels of menacing, harassment and assault. The commanding officer, as far as I know, hasn’t been charged. Is that right?
TAHANIE ABOUSHI: That’s correct.
DOUNYA ZAYER: Yeah. Regarding the commanding officer, I feel like a transfer of Commander Craig Edelman was completely inappropriate. Moving a problem to another community does not solve the problem. It’s not correct. He clearly is not fit to hold a position where he’s supposed to be preventing his officers from doing the wrong thing. A commander who could watch his lower officers commit a crime, and do nothing, should not be a commander. He should be fired. He should lose his position. If anything, he should — you know, it’s difficult to go that far, but he should also be charged. Like, he didn’t do anything. If you’re an officer and you could witness an assault, then you’re aiding in the assault, as far as I’m concerned.
AMY GOODMAN: And various legislative bodies are starting to say if you do not hold another officer accountable, you, too, will be charged.
DOUNYA ZAYER: Exactly. And then, with Vincent D’Andraia, I don’t understand how — you know, like, he was suspended. I hope that they continue that to fired, because he should — you know, what does his suspension solve? Him coming back and being able to do exactly what he did to me again in the future. There should be no second chances with officers. There is no — it’s not acceptable. We can’t normalize the way they’ve been treating us and the way they treat Black people worse, way worse. It’s not normal. We can’t justify it. You can’t make excuses for it. They have to be held accountable immediately. No suspension. Fired. As —
AMY GOODMAN: Dounya, we have to go, but I want to thank you so much for being with us. Dounya Zayer is an activist, shoved by New York police during a recent anti-police protest in New York City. Tahanie Aboushi, civil rights attorney, her attorney, running for Manhattan DA, demanding that police be held accountable.
That does it for our broadcast. Go to democracynow.org for all our stories. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us. Stay safe.