TOMPKINSVILLE — The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce sent out a security alert to business owners this week warning them to watch out for Saturday's march in memory of Eric Garner — in what critics are calling an "incendiary" tactic that could spark unnecessary hostility.
"Although the march is considered peaceful, there is no guarantee that everyone in attendance will act sensibly," the chamber wrote in its flyer, which was distributed throughout the borough. "It is important that personal safety and general precautions be used."
The chamber told DNAinfo that it sends out similar security alerts to business owners anytime a large assembly of people is planned, but declined to cite examples of any past instances.
Councilwoman Debi Rose called the notice an attempt to distract from the march — which is being organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton and will include elected officials including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, former governor David Paterson along with members of Garner's family.
"I am very disappointed by the attempts to divide and distract from the purpose behind Saturday's march — and even go so far as to suggest that local merchants should be 'afraid,'" Rose said in a statement.
"This inflammatory rhetoric creates an 'us vs them scenario' and sets up a recipe for disaster. Every march and rally regarding the death of Mr. Garner has been peaceful, as this one will be."
The march marks the one month anniversary of the death of Garner, 43. The incident was caught on a controversial video in which Garner is seen being wrestled to the ground by officers for selling illegal cigarettes — before being heard saying "I can't breathe" nearly a dozen times.
The march is expected to start at 11 a.m. on Victory Boulevard and Bay Street, near where Garner died from an apparent chokehold.
The protest will head to Richmond Terrace and Hamilton Avenue, the flier said.
Joe Fiore, one of the co-owners of Bagel Mercato on Bay Street, which is along the march route, said he originally planned to stay open during the march. But after he got the Chamber of Commerce letter and talked with other business owners and customers, he decided to close, he said.
"There's no reason to be involved with any of this," he said. "I don't need the headache or the hassle."
Lorie Honor, owner of Honor Wines on Bay Street, said she also plans to shut her shop during the march — not for fear of protestors but because there wouldn't be room for wine buyers to walk the streets to get to her store.
"This is a small community and they planned an event that is the equivalent of planting a small village here," Honor said. "There's going to be no way for people to get around."
Honor said she may try to open her doors following the close of the rally, which is scheduled to end at 3 p.m. She plans to also open up shop on Sunday in a bid to recoup the loss of business, she said.
Owners of other stores along the march route, including pizzeria Pier 76, 5050 Skatepark, Hypno-Tronic Comics, Karl's Klipper and Bagel Mercato, also said they would close their doors during the rally.
Local business owners said they were not given any information about the march from the NYPD's nearby 120 Precinct.
Still, other businesses said they don't plan to close.
Chiaki Matsuura, a worker for Bay House Rice & Udon Station, which is located at the planned march start site, said the restaurant's owner was leaning towards staying open on Saturday.
A manager at 120 Bay Cafe nearby also said they would stay open.
The NYPD did not respond to questions about how many officers would be assigned to cover the rally, but a report in the New York Post said that hundreds of police were told to report to Staten Island at 6 a.m. with riot gear.
The NYPD plans to close off the following streets to vehicles during the protest between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday:
► Bay Street from Hannah Street to Richmond Terrace; Little Bay Street from Victory Boulevard to Bay Street
► Victory Boulevard from Jersey to Bay streets
► St. Mark's Place from Victory Boulevard to Hyatt Street
► Stuyvesant Place from Bay to Wall streets
► Richmond Terrace from Bay Street to Westervelt Avenue
► Hamilton Avenue from Richmond Terrace to Stuyvesant Place
For the march, Sharpton's group, the National Action Network, plans to shuttle protesters from all over the city to the rally after pressure from politicians caused him to change original plans to march across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. He had initially planned to march across the bridge, but after pushback from the mayor and the governor's office, his group reportedly opted to use buses instead.