New York City-funded law firm involved in video calling for police to be killed
A Bronx law firm that receives city funding has been linked to a controversial music video that called for police officers to be killed, according to findings made public Thursday.
According to a report released by the New York City Department of Investigation, at least two attorneys with the Bronx Defenders appear in the video, titled “Hands Up,” which contains images of two singers pointing handguns at the head of a man dressed up as a police officer.
One of the artists raps early in the video “for Mike Brown and Sean Bell, a cop gotta get killed,” referring to two police killings involving the Ferguson, Mo. and New York City police departments.
The entire video, which was released by rappers Uncle Murda & Maino in conjunction with the website WorldStar Hip Hop in December, can be viewed here.
Portions of the video were shot at the offices of the Bronx Defenders, a law firm that provides criminal defense attorneys to low-income defendants, and receives roughly $20 million in city funding each year, according to the report.
The law firm is described as a sponsor in the closing credits of the clip. Two attorneys, identified as Kumar Rao and Ryan Napoli, suggested the agency become involved in the video and can be seen in the final cut. A third Bronx Defenders employee was present for the video’s filming but was not on camera.
The Department of Investigation, a city government watchdog panel, also accused Bronx Defenders Executive Director Robin Steinberg of failing to adequately discipline the staff members involved in the video. The panel has submitted its findings to New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s office and the city attorney for review.
“The Bronx Defenders abhors the use of violence against the police under any circumstance. We have always been an organization that is committed to preserving life, dignity and respect for all people,” read a statement posted to the law firm’s website on Thursday. “The Bronx Defenders never approved the music video ‘Hands Up,’ and never saw it before it went online. We deeply regret any involvement with this video.”
Steinberg told city investigators her office did not see a final version of the video before it was released, according to the report. Investigators contend the law firm made no effort to obtain a copy of the video to review before it was released.
Attorneys Rao and Napoli could not be reached for comment.
The report marks the latest in a series of police-related controversies in New York City. In December, a grand jury declined to indict white Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island man. The decision set off weeks of protests from thousands who believed Pantaleo should face criminal charges.
Weeks later, New York City police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot and killed in an ambush by 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who had promised to kill cops as revenge for the deaths of Garner and Brown in a rant on social media that same day.
Patrick Lynch, head of New York City’s largest police union, called for the city to immediately stop funding Bronx Defenders on Thursday.
“It is clear that Bronx Defenders, who knowingly participated in this despicable video calling for the murder of police officers, have violated their oath as officers of the court and should be disbarred as a result,” Lynch said in a statement.
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