Two public defenders have been criticized by New York City investigators for their part in a music video endorsing deadly retribution of law enforcement after the death of Eric Garner, the black unarmed man who died after a confrontation with a white officer.
The New York Times reported that in the video the two lawyers are portrayed as defense lawyers working on a case. The scene before depicted men holding a gun to the head of a man dressed in a NYPD uniform. The music video flashed symbols of police protest movements, black men with raised arms and images of Garner being wrestled to the ground by a police officer.
New York City investigators have concluded that the two defenders had knowledge prior to the video’s release that the lyrics were derogatory and supported retaliation against police for the death of Garner. The video was posted on YouTube shortly after the grand jury decision in December to not bring charges in Garner’s death.
The two lawyers, Kumar Rao and Ryan Napoli, work for the Bronx Defenders, known for its aggressive defense of low-income and minority clients. The city, who funds the organization with $20 million a year, has demanded that they take disciplinary action against the men by February 4.
According to The New York Times, investigators also concluded that Robin Steinberg, the founder and executive director of the Bronx Defenders, approved the group’s involvement without reviewing the lyrics and later misled city officials about her role.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been recently criticized by police for his tolerance of anti-police protests, said that unless the group promptly addresses the concerns, “the city will take all legal and contractual actions available to it.” The city could cancel its contract with the Bronx Defenders, which currently serves about 35,000 clients a year.
“If you’re an organization primarily funded by the city, you can’t use your premises and you can’t sponsor videos that call for killing police officers,” said Mark Peters, Commissioner of the Investigation Department. He added, “When people in your organization do something that so damages your reputation, it also damages your ability to efficiently advocate in front of judges and in front of prosecutors.”
The song was performed by the rappers Maino, Jay Watts and Uncle Murda, all known for writing songs promoting the killing of police officers. The music video’s open verses advocated reprisals against the police: “For Mike Brown and Sean Bell, a cop got to get killed.” It continues, “Time to start killing these coppers.”
In a statement, the Bronx Defenders said its employees never saw the video before it was posted online nor approved any of the images used. “The Bronx Defenders abhors the use of violence against the police under any circumstance,” it said.