Before White House Meeting, de Blasio Says Nation Must Face Ferguson ‘Head On’

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images.)

Mayor Bill de Blasio will join President Barack Obama and others this afternoon to discuss continued tensions between police and the communities they serve in the wake of protests in Ferguson, Mo.—and said today it’s an issue the country must face “head on.”

“I think the president is right to convene a national discussion. We have a challenge right now that we have to face head on,” Mr. de Blasio told reporters after a World AIDS Day event, according to audio provided by his office. “This country right now is in pain. We’ve lost so many young men of color, young men who should still be alive and with us today, and its clawing at us—it’s clawing at people of all backgrounds. There’s a sense that there’s something wrong in this country that’s going unaddressed.”

Mr. de Blasio is scheduled to attend a meeting with “elected officials, community and faith leaders, along with law enforcement officials,” at the White House, according to the president’s public schedule, to “discuss how communities and law enforcement can work together to build trust to strengthen neighborhoods across the country.”

That meeting follows violent reactions in Ferguson, Mo., after a grand jury there declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, who was black. Last month also saw police shoot a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland, Tamir Rice, also black, who was holding a toy gun.

Mr. de Blasio ran on the promise of bettering the relationship between police and members of the community, particularly minorities who felt targeted by the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program. But tensions have run particularly high in New York following the deaths of two black men at the hands of the NYPD. Eric Garner, a Staten Island man, died when police were attempting to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes in July. Akai Gurley was shot to death by a rookie cop last month in a Brooklyn housing project, in what police have said was an accidental discharge.

While the mayor demurred over the summer when asked whether race was a factor in the Garner incident specifically, today he said the broader problems that would be discussed at the White House were due to “centuries of racism.”

“I think the president is doing the right thing to say we have to come together right now, and we have to take responsibility for it—we know these problems are caused by not just decades, but centuries of racism, but we have to take responsibility. That’s what our generation has to resolve. We have to find a way to end this cycle,” he said.

Following the reaction to the grand jury verdict in Ferguson, many eyes are on Staten Island—where a grand jury is expected to determine as early as this week whether to charge any officers in the death of Garner. Unlike Brown’s death, Garner’s death was recorded on a video that was widely shared in the news media—showing a police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, wrap his arm around Garner’s neck in an attempt to arrest the unarmed man using what some have said appears to be a chokehold, a maneuver prohibited by the NYPD. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide by chokehold, which police unions have disputed.

But Mr. de Blasio said again today he does not expect the same reaction here—where protests regarding both Garner and the events in Ferguson have been nonviolent.

“I think every place is different, every situation is different. I think we have to address the underlying reality—I think that’s the most important thing to do right now,” he said.

As for today’s meeting, the mayor said he hoped to share what New York City is doing to improve relationships between police and the community—and to find new answers.

“This is a moment where everyone is seeking solutions, and they can’t be solutions for far off in the future—we need things that will start to change the dynamics right now,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Before White House Meeting, de Blasio Says Nation Must Face Ferguson ‘Head On’