A leading official of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network said that the controversial leader met personally with Mayor Bill de Blasio this morning to criticize the allegedly heavy-handed response to protests held last night—and told the Observer that the mayor “submitted” to getting answers.
Kirsten John Foy, northeast regional director for NAN and Mr. Sharpton’s protégé, said at a press conference at One Police Plaza that the reverend had an audience with the mayor to criticize what was perceived as physical abuse of protesters and infringement of their right to use city streets and sidewalks to demonstrate. The NYPD said today 143 people were arrested last night at a protest in sympathy with the late Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black Baltimore resident who sustained fatal injuries under mysterious circumstances while in police custody—and whose death has thrown that city into disarray.
“Reverend Sharpton expressed his grave concern and outrage over what happened last night. He has expressed concern about the action that could be precipitated by this kind of policing,” he said. “We cannot move forward and guarantee the young people that if they peacefully protest, that they will be respected, if the NYPD will not respect peaceful protest.”
Mr. Foy went into some detail about how Mr. de Blasio responded to Mr. Sharpton while speaking to the Observer after the press conference.
“That he was going to look into it, get to the bottom of it, the facts that precipitated last night, and that we were going to try to move forward jointly in protecting protesters’ right to protest while maintaining order,” Mr. Foy said. “But there are some undeniable facts that the city has to address, and has to answer, so the mayor submitted to get those answers.”
Mr. Foy, who served as director of intergovernmental affairs under Mr. de Blasio while the latter was public advocate, warned of consequences if the mayor failed to change course.
“I’m going to say this now: if last night was the casting of the die, our feet will bust the iron gates open. If last night was the casting of the die, the summer is going to be hot,” he said. “If last night was the casting of the die, you can better believe, the streets will be flooded with people of color, people of good conscience. The streets will be flooded, your stores will be shut down. The airwaves will be shut down. The city will be shut down. ”
Mr. Foy, who in 2013 unsuccessfully sought the Brooklyn City Council seat now held by Robert Cornegy, recalled Mr. de Blasio’s campaign attacks on the controversial policing tactic of stop and frisk, and said the African-American community will not be content with the end of that practice alone..
“We elected a mayor with the promise that this was going to stop. You thought we was satisfied with stop and frisk. That wasn’t no gift, that wasn’t charity, that was putting you back in line with the Constitution,” he said.
The NAN leader said it was unreasonable to ask New York’s blacks to remain peaceful and not vent their rage on police and property if the NYPD clamps down on even non-violent demonstrations.
“We can’t tell young people not to riot because your voices will be heard if you do the right thing. Then when you do the right thing, you’re thrown into jail,” he said. “We cannot guarantee that if you participate in the system, you will have a just outcome, if when you participate in the system, the outcome is just as unjust as the initial treatment. And so Reverend Sharpton relayed this messages to the mayor.”
“If the city does the right thing, they will respond in kind. But if the city does the wrong thing, they will respond in kind,” he continued.
The mayor confirmed at a press conference that he had met with the black leader in the morning, but disputed Mr. Foy’s characterization of the discussion, saying the summit had been scheduled well in advance.
“I had for weeks had a meeting planned with Reverend Sharpton to talk about efforts surrounding fighting income inequality nationally. That was the core of what we talked about,” he said, though he acknowledged the protests had come up. “We talked about obviously currently events as well.”
Updated to include comment from Mr. de Blasio.