EAST FLATBUSH — City Councilman Jumaane Williams and other leaders of the community where protests have raged this week blamed outside groups Thursday for "inciting and igniting" violence and trying to exploit the shooting of a 16-year-old by police for their own gain.
Williams, joined by a dozen local clergy and community members, gathered outside the East Flatbush memorial for 16-year-old Kimani Gray to urge restraint in a community he said was a tinderbox that needed resources and solutions — not agitation.
"There are people — well-intentioned as they may be — that are coming into the community and capitalizing on a terrible situation and making it worse," he told reporters gathered in front of the memorial, where candles still flickered in Gray's memory.
"This is about inciting and igniting 60, 70, 80 15-and 16-year-olds who have justified anger, and taking them — without any training, without any strategy, without discussing with them what will happen if they get arrested — and taking them on a march that is dangerous and destructive," he said.
Williams had originally blamed the violence on frustrations in the community stemming from years of clashes with police. But by Wednesday night, his tune had changed.
"Please stay the HELL out of our community if will only agitate our kids. It's dangerous and counterproductive. Be responsible or STAY away!" he added.
But not everyone agreed with Williams's call for restraint.
"This is a police brutality issue!" shouted Jose LaSalle, the founder of the group End Stop and Frisk, interrupting Williams' press conference.
"Ask the youth in the community what they want!" he yelled. "They're the ones who are being harassed every day!"
LaSalle told DNAinfo.com New York before confronting Williams that he had rallied about 150 people from his group, along with members of the New Black Panthers, to lead the march that turned violent Wednesday night "to let people know enough is enough."
Also in attendance were individuals who appeared to be affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, including at least one videographer who has been posting live images of the protests via a feed named "ows-occupy-union-square."
Nicholas Isabella, member of Occupy Wall Street's legal defense team, also told DNAinfo.com New York that Occupy would be covering some of the arrested protesters' bail money.
LaSalle argued that, after enduring so much, it was time for the community to rise up.
"To be honest, everything else that has been done until now has not bear [sic] any fruit to make any of these officers accountable for breaking the law," he said.
"Sometimes they need to see the same violence that they are perpetrating on a daily basis in these communities, so they could see that people are reaching a boiling point — a boiling point where they're not just putting the community's life in danger, but they're putting their own life in danger," said LaSalle, 43, who splits his time between Harlem and The Bronx.
Williams and LaSalle have both worked together to oppose stop-and-frisk.
Earlier, City Councilman Charles Barron also threatened more violence until there is an independent investigation of Gray's death.
"Our call is for justice. The best way to stop violence in our community is that we get justice. No pleas for peace is gonna do it," he said at an earlier press conference Thursday at his district office with Gray's grieving mother.
"We’re talking about a powder keg out here," he said. "Anything can trigger it."
But Gray's mother, Carol, echoed Williams' calls for restraint.
"I don’t condone any riots, any looting, any shooting, anything against police officers," she said. "Police officers shot down Kimani. I only want justice for two police officers to be off the street before they hurt other young kids."
The emotions were also shared by others in the community distraught by the trail of destruction in their neighborhood, including smashed bottles, hurled garbage cans and a ransacked Rite Aid.
"We can't have the kids going out and destroying the same neighborhood that we’re from," said Sandra Mitchelin, 42, a community member who has been helping to organize the vigils in honor of Gray, and said the vigils had drawn the attention of people from across the city, including other families who'd been affected by violence.
"Now it's not just neighborhood people," she said.
Amnon Ambalo, who opened the Blink Boutique on Church Avenue near E. 48th Street about six months ago, also noted the change in the protesters' backgrounds.
"The girls [who work in my shop] have told me that it started with people mostly from the neighborhood. But they said that when things started to get crazy, especially [Wednesday] night, was when people started to come in from other neighborhoods and rile the kids up," said Ambalo, who has been closing the shop early to avoid getting caught in any melee.
Gray was hit with seven bullets after he allegedly pointed a loaded .38-caliber revolver at two undercover NYPD officers late Saturday night, prompting three straight nights of violent demonstrations, leaving many in the neighborhood afraid.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday that his heart went out to Gray's family, and he promised "a full and fair investigation." But he condemned the violence, which he insisted was not an indication of more systematic problems.
"I understand there's anger in the community, but the place to get answers is not through violence or law breaking. We cannot tolerate that and we will not tolerate that," he told reporters at City Hall. "You can rest assured we will take adequate precautions to protect the public."