Democratic Public Advocate Letitia James today joined a chorus of Republican lawmakers insisting Rev. Al Sharpton call off a planned march across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge protesting the death of Eric Garner.
Unlike the GOPers, who complained that Mr. Sharpton’s rally would cause nightmarish traffic congestion, Ms. James cited concerns over the safety of the demonstrators while crossing the span linking Brooklyn with Garner’s native Staten Island. The pol noted that the bridge and its approaches are designed only for cars.
“In light of structural issues and the lack of an established pedestrian walkway, plans to march across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge should be discontinued,” Ms. James said in a statement. “The tragic death of Eric Garner and other concerning incidents prompt substantive and real reforms for policing throughout New York City, and certainly, the voices of all New Yorkers should be a part of achieving this reform. However, as we move forward, I urge everyone to consider the health and safety of New Yorkers exercising their right to civil protest.”
Ms. James, however, said she believed Mr. Sharpton could and should hold his march somewhere else, where she suggested legal permits would be easier to acquire.
“Protests should proceed at alternate locations where permits are likely to be granted and the overall safety of protestors can be guaranteed,” she said.
Despite breaking with Mr. Sharpton on the details of the demonstration, Ms. James pledged her commitment to the issues that inspired the rally, and vowed to push for changes in police policy.
“My office will continue to focus on substantive reforms, like my proposed pilot program which would equip police officers with body cameras. I believe such a program, which has been embraced by other law enforcement departments nationwide, will go far to protect NYPD officers as well as those they serve,” she said.
Mr. Sharpton did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The controversial activist, however, lashed out at the Republicans—including gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, Brooklyn State Senator Marty Golden, Staten Island councilmen Steven Matteo and Vincent Ignizio, and borough-spanning Congressman Michael Grimm—who called for him to cancel his plans earlier this week.
“I think it’s kind of absurd for them assume that leaders of civil rights groups, churches and unions would do anything that would in any way endanger the public—we’re marching for the public. I think they would be better asking, what are the plans, rather than assume the plan. How do they even know what the logistics are?” Mr. Sharpton told the Observer.
Ms. James is the first citywide Democratic official to come out against the use of the Verrazano Bridge for the march.