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De Blasio Meets with NYPD, Religious Leaders to Discuss Eric Garner Death

By Jeff Mays | August 21, 2014 12:19pm
 Cardinal Timothy Dolan hosted a meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio, clergy and police Wednesday in the aftermath of the Eric Garner chokehold case.
Eric Garner meeting at St. Patrick's Cathedral
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MIDTOWN — The last time Mayor Bill de Blasio hosted a meeting of law enforcement and religious leaders over frayed police and community relations exacerbated by the death of Eric Garner, it appeared to spark more public criticism than it solved.

De Blasio came under fire from both sides after holding a televised press conference about Garner's death with Police Commissioner William Bratton to his right and the Rev. Al Sharpton to his left — with critics on both sides saying the meeting sent the wrong message about City Hall's position on Garner's death.

But the mayor he held a very different meeting about NYPD-community relations on Wednesday — moving it to Cardinal Timothy Dolan's private residence at St. Patrick's Cathedral instead of City Hall, and meeting with police and clergy behind closed doors, instead of in front of TV cameras. 

"God's going to bring good out of this setback," Dolan, who was one of a dozen Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy members present, including Sharpton, told reporters. Police leaders including Bratton were also present at the closed-door two hour meeting.

De Blasio said the gathering was about how to "move the city to the future," close "divisions" and "bring police and community together."

The goal, de Blasio said, was to use the inherent networks in the city's religious communities to help foster a better understanding between police and residents, and that the meeting was just the beginning of a "down to the grassroots" effort to mend the rift.

Political consultant Basil Smikle said he's not surprised de Blasio held another meeting after the outcry after the last one.

"I think the meeting with Cardinal Dolan was a redo from the earlier meeting where we saw Sharpton and Bratton share the stage," Smikle said. "It was meant to be interfaith and bring a broader race-neutral coalition together to deal with this issue."

The meeting came days before Sharpton is scheduled to lead a rally on Staten Island to protest Garner's death, and just a day after Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced that he would present evidence in the Garner case before a grand jury.

"This is a defining moment in this country," said Sharpton, who has been meeting with the families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the unarmed teen shot to death by police in Ferguson, Mo. "We must show the world that we are mature enough to allow its citizenry to question those in authority, but respect them at the same time."

De Blasio said Wednesday that he had already begun the process of reforming the police department, citing "a reduction in unnecessary stops" and marijuana arrests, along with "helpful and constructive oversight" from the new NYPD Inspector General and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

But Yul-san Liem, co director of the Justice Committee, a group working against police brutality, said she still wants to see the mayor stop defending the broken windows policing policy, which targets quality of life violations as a way of reducing major crimes.

"It's not a bad thing for community leaders to come together," said Liem. "But the mayor ran on a police reform platform and said he wanted to end discriminatory policing."

Liem said she still expects de Blasio to fulfill his campaign promise to make "serious change in the NYPD's culture" going forward.

"We will keep putting the pressure on," Liem said. "Our job is to hold him accountable."