Al Sharpton Invokes Nelson Mandela as Advocates Rally for NYPD Reform Bills

Council Member Jumaane Williams and Reverend Al Sharpton praise passage of racial profiling bill.

Council Member Jumaane Williams and Reverend Al Sharpton praise passage of racial profiling bill.

City Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander left City Hall in the wee hours of this morning after successfully quarterbacking two controversial bills aimed at reforming NYPD practices. And less than twelve hours later, they returned to City Hall’s steps enlivened and exultant to celebrate the victory.

Joined by Reverend Al Sharpton and a cadre of supporters, the group heralded the combined efforts of members of the City Council in passing the two bills that comprised the Community Safety Act with veto-proof majorities.

Mr. Sharpton even invoked the name of South Africa’s ailing anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela as he took to the podium.

“As the world prays for Nelson Mandela, if those two opposite sides in South Africa can come together as Mandela did, certainly those that claim they want the best for the city can come together, as Councilman Williams has urged, and sit down and make this a better city,”  he declared.

Mr. Williams played a pivotal role in the City Council’s passage of the two controversial bills. Intro 1079, which establishes an Inspector General within the Department of Investigation, passed by a vote of 40-11, while Intro 1080, which creates a bias-based profiling ban in the city and the right to sue in state courts, passed even more narrowly by a vote of 34-17–the absolute minimum needed for a bill to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s inevitable veto.

“I hope that we don’t need to get to a veto override. But I know we will. And when we will, we will be there and we will override that veto,” Manhattan Councilwoman Rosie Mendez said at the event.

Mr. Williams was similarly confident that public support for the bills would help counteract Mr. Bloomberg–who said the bills “will only hurt our police officers’ ability to protect New Yorkers” in a statement early this morning–and his efforts to block the legislation from becoming law.

“They’re going to continue–I guess–trying to convince people of how dangerous it is, but I think people already know what time it is so I’m excited about that,” Mr. Williams told Politicker.

But fellow supporter Fahd Ahmed, the legal and policy director for Desis Rising up and Moving, an advocacy group for the South Asian community in New York City, expressed some concern about galvanizing enough council members to override the veto. He said that some of the members represented communities where racial profiling wasn’t a major issue and chose to lend their support only after hearing the stories shared by Mr. Williams, among others. He acknowledged the possibility that the council members might not be able to override the veto, saying the fight was far from over.

“We hope so but we’re going to be working to make sure that’s the case,” Mr. Ahmed told Politicker.

In addition to the drama between Mr. Bloomberg and the City Council, the two bills have also had an impact on the race to replace the mayor.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, for instance, told reporters at a union event this afternoon that his support for the legislation marked a significant difference between the candidates, with both former Comptroller Bill Thompson and Council Speaker Christine Quinn being opposed to the racial profiling bill.

“This is an historic moment for the city to pass the racial profiling bill, to pass the inspector general bill,” Mr. de Blasio said. “It’s gonna begin the process of repairing police-community relation. Now, I emphasize the word ‘begin.’ It’s not an end unto itself. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Contrasting himself with Ms. Quinn, who supports keeping Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in her hypothetical administration, Mr. de Blasio added, “I’m someone who believes the next step is to bring in a new police commissioner who’s devoted to community policing and to fixing the relationship between police and community.”

Watch Mr. Williams and Mr. Sharpton make their remarks below:

Reporting contributed by Jill Colvin