Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was “reeling” after a pair of police shootings of black men this week—saying he feared such deaths would become a “pattern” in America.
“No parent of color, or parent of a child of color in this country, can watch that and not be afraid,” said de Blasio, whose two children Chiara and Dante are bi-racial. “You fear for the life of a child when you see a situation like this, because it’s inexplicable. That’s the problem here.”
De Blasio, who has previously spoken about his fears surrounding his son’s interactions with police, brought up the shootings unprompted at the end of a press conference in the Bronx about this week’s heat wave. In one, cell phone video captured Baton Rouge police officers shooting Alton Sterling, 37, while he was pinned on the ground. In another, a woman began just moments after a Minnesota police officer shot 32-year-old Philando Castile during a traffic stop.
De Blasio spoke at length about the Castile shooting, saying it seemed to be an example of a man complying with police—something he stresses as a parent—and still being shot. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, has said that he told the police officer who stopped him that he had a gun on him, as well as a permit to carry it. She said he was reaching for his wallet, as instructed by the officer, when he was shot.
This morning, Castile’s mother said on CNN that he had been raised to follow police instructions “to the letter.”
“For parents, that is a devastating example,” de Blasio said. “Because we’re telling our kids: ‘Do everything the officer says, and you’ll be safe.'”
Of course, New York has not been without its own deadly encounters between black men and police officers. It was nearly two years ago that Eric Garner died while police tried to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes—an offense not unlike selling CDs, which is what Sterling was allegedly doing. But de Blasio argued that New York City had responded to that deaths and others by retraining the entire police department, particularly around “implicit bias,” which are beliefs or prejudices officers might not have even realized they held.
“We have to always wait for the facts, but when you look at those two videos, it’s very hard to believe that bias wasn’t part of that equation, because of the level of over-reaction,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio, who said the issue was “personal” for him, said he had not yet discussed the two most recent shootings with his own children.
“I haven’t this time, but I’ve spoken with Dante and Chiara about these kinds of situations many times before, and I wish I hadn’t had occasion to speak about them many times before. That is what’s in part spurring my comments,” de Blasio said. “I don’t want to see these kinds of situations become commonplace, where a young man of color dies in this fashion.”
When de Blasio does speak to his children, he said he’d tell them that he was trying to “make change” in the city. But he said he’d also return to the same advice he’d given before.
“I would still affirm: do exactly what the officer says. Of course. Because as painful as it is, it is still the right thing to do, and it is the safe thing to do,” de Blasio said. But he feared young people would be less willing to take their parent’s advice now. “I’m sure there are going to be conversations all over American tonight: you told me this, and now look what happened. But it’s still the right advice: do exactly as the officer says.”