Responding directly to questions for the first time since a Staten Island grand jury voted yesterday not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a taped radio interview this morning that the Garner decision, which spurred peaceful but angry protests, is “bigger than Staten Island.”
“It’s bigger than Staten Island and the people should respect that each one of these pieces of the equation matters,” Mr. de Blasio said on HOT 97, a radio station where he gives sporadic exclusive interviews.
“When the attorney general is paying attention, that matters. When the police commissioner–and this police commissioner has devoted himself to the reform of the police department and he says, ‘We’re going to do our own internal investigation,’ that makes clear that that’s going to be an investigation that has consequences. So I do think it’s hard to have patience but people have to respect … the process,” he added.
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat who won an election on a platform of police reform, stressed that New Yorkers needed to look at the bigger picture of the Garner outcome and not just focus on the frustration they feel about a black man once more dying in police custody. Unlike other elected officials, Mr. de Blasio restrained himself from attacking the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, for placing Garner in an apparent chokehold that critics say led to his death in July, but said his policies–like reducing stop-and-frisks and putting body cameras on police officers–coupled with a Department of Justice investigation into the Garner case would lead to change.
In a mass email from a City Hall account sent to campaign supporters this morning (a practice that has also drawn criticism), Mr. de Blasio underscored his grander vision.
“We’ve dramatically reduced the overuse and abuse of stop-and-frisk, initiated a comprehensive plan to retrain the entire NYPD to reduce the use of excessive force and to work with the community, reduced arrests for minor marijuana possession, and given officers body cameras to improve transparency and accountability,” Mr. de Blasio said in the email.
But it’s not clear yet if Mr. de Blasio’s words or policies alone will be able ease the tension between police and minority communities. In the wake of a grand jury deciding not to indict a white police officer for shooting to death a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., the lack of an indictment in the Garner case only seemed to inflame tensions further, riling up minority elected officials and protesters across the city.
Congressman Gregory Meeks, a Queens Democrat who represents a heavily African-American district, dismissed Mr. de Blasio’s belief that body cameras on police would solve any problems, especially since Garner’s confrontation was videotaped.
“It makes me wonder, what good is, what most of us been talking a lot about,” Mr. Meeks said at a Wednesday press conference in Washington D.C. “What good is a body camera?”