Sharpton Calls Eric Garner’s Death a ‘Test’ for de Blasio Administration

Rev. Al Sharpton responding to The Smoking Gun report Tuesday. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty)

Rev. Al Sharpton. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty)

At the first of two planned rallies after the death of a man in NYPD custody, Rev. Al Sharpton said Saturday the incident would pose a “test” for the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio — who is leaving for an Italian vacation tonight.

“This is going to be a real test to see where policies are in the city now, and whether the change that we feel has occurred has occurred,” Mr. Sharpton said at a rally at National Action Network headquarters in Harlem, which was also streamed live online.

Eric Garner, 43, died after police sought to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island Thursday. Video posted by the New York Daily News shows officers using a chokehold — prohibited by NYPD regulations — to bring Mr. Garner to the ground as he repeatedly shouts he cannot breath.

Mr. de Blasio was elected with strong support from black voters and has vowed to improve the NYPD’s relationship with communities of color, in part by reducing the use of stop and frisk. He vowed Friday that there would be a “thorough” investigation into Mr. Garner’s death, and called video of the arrest “troubling.”

Mr. de Blasio  postponed his trip, which was slated to begin with a Friday night flight, and spoke with Mr. Garner’s family by phone Saturday morning, spokeswoman Marti Adams said.

“Mayor de Blasio called Mr. Garner’s wife and mother this morning to offer his condolences. During their conversation, he reassured the family that the city is doing everything possible to ensure a full and thorough investigation,” she told the Observer.

The mayor has no public events scheduled for Saturday, but has been calling community leaders, elected officials and NYPD officials about the situation, Ms. Adams said.

Mr. Garner’s family attended the morning rally in Harlem, where his wife at one point was overcome with grief, crumpling on the stage and leading Mr. Sharpton to call for a song so she could be escorted away.

City Council Public Safety Chairwoman Vanessa Gibson told the crowd she was “full of emotions today.”

“Eric Garner, as easily as he lived in Staten Island, could’ve lived in my community in the Bronx — could have been my father, my brother, my uncle, so I take this personally,” Ms. Gibson said.

She also urged people to respond to Mr. Garner’s death appropriately.

“We cannot react in a negative way — we must take this energy, this emotion, and turn it into action,” she said.

Mr. Sharpton is set to rally again with Mr. Garner’s family, local and citywide leaders — including Comptroller Scott Stringer — at 2 p.m. in Staten Island.

This post has been updated to include new information about Mr. de Blasio calling Mr. Garner’s family.