Dante de Blasio would be a candidate for a chokehold if he were not the son of the mayor.
That was just one fiery claim Rev. Al Sharpton made this morning at a round table discussion hosted by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a carefully-crafted City Hall event intended to show that the Democratic mayor is sensitive to the concerns of minority communities in the wake of a black man’s death in police custody. Mr. Sharpton, as expected, did not hold his tongue, ripping Mr. de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s support of “broken windows” policing as the stone-faced commissioner, two seats away, looked on.
“Given the data that we are seeing in terms of these broken window kind of operations, it’s disproportionate in the black and Latino communities. If Dante wasn’t your son, he would be a candidate for a chokehold,” Mr. Sharpton, turning to Mr. de Blasio, said in his opening remarks. “And we’ve got to deal with that reality. We’re not talking about training. Training is important but you don’t need training for a man to say 11 times, ‘I can’t breathe’ and you still hold him in a grip. You don’t need training, you need to have people that understand the law is what they protect and uphold.”
Mr. Sharpton continued to rebuke Mr. Bratton, who asserted that race was not a factor in the July 17 death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black Staten Island man who died after NYPD placed him in an apparent chokehold, a prohibited maneuver.
“I heard the commissioner say race wasn’t involved–we don’t know that!” Mr. Sharpton said. “How can we assume before an investigation that a policeman with two civil rights violations didn’t have race involved. So we’re going to prejudge what we want and tell the community to wait on the results? I think it is important that we do the business of transforming the police department without losing one thing in keeping crime and violence down because we are the worst recipients of that as well.”
He forcefully added, “I also think, commissioner, that the best way to make police stop using illegal chokeholds is to perp walk one of them that did. And when they understand they’ve got to pay the price like anybody else that breaks the law, it will send a lesson that 10 training lessons will not give.”
The round table, closed to the press after the key participants delivered remarks, featured many members of Mr. de Blasio’s inner cabinet, black faith leaders and Staten Island Councilwoman Debi Rose, the lawmaker representing the neighborhood where Garner died. Included in the round table–though she didn’t speak when press were present–was Rachel Noerdlinger, the chief of staff to Mr. de Blasio’s wife and a former top aide to Mr. Sharpton. Among Ms. Noerdlinger’s duties has been coordinating the administration’s response to Garner’s death.
While the round table was able to showcase Mr. de Blasio, a liberal Democrat with a biracial family who remains extremely popular among black voters, as a compassionate, King Solomon-like leader capable of hearing out all sides of a debate, it also represented a potentially awkward balancing act of his mayoralty. Mr. de Blasio, along with Mr. Bratton–once a police commissioner under Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a bête noire of Mr. Sharpton and many black activists–enthusiastically endorses the “broken windows” theory, a style of policing predicated on pursuing small-time offenders to curb more dangerous crime.
Some public safety experts credit the theory with dramatically reducing the city’s crime rates in the 1990s, but minority leaders like Mr. Sharpton have questioned its value in 2014, when crime is low and non-whites appear to be the brunt of the policy. A rally against the “broken windows” approach to policing is scheduled at City Hall today, coinciding with Mr. de Blasio’s round table.
Mr. Bratton, unlike Mr. Sharpton, argued that the solution to better relations between police and minorities is better training, a solution Mr. de Blasio wholeheartedly endorsed.
“Training is absolutely the essential catalyst for [coming] out of this tragedy, finding opportunity, opportunity the mayor is very supportive of,” Mr. Bratton said. “My attention moving forward is that we shall retrain the whole department, all 35,000 members, particularly those 20,000 officers who routinely work the streets.”
Mr. de Blasio, who was introduced by his community affairs commissioner as the “man who ended stop-and-frisk,” repeatedly praised Mr. Bratton, attempting to stake out a rhetorical middle ground between Mr. Sharpton, a top ally, and his police commissioner.
“The commissioner has also said repeatedly: we can’t break the law to enforce the law. That essential notion that now is the official viewpoint of this police department and that is a powerful step forward that will yield results more and more over time,” Mr. de Blasio said.