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Protesters Soften Tone and Hold Candlelight Vigil After NYPD Deaths

By Rosa Goldensohn | December 21, 2014 9:25pm
 The activist group turned a march into a vigil Sunday night.
Justice League Vigil
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MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — A planned march against police violence turned into a candlelight vigil for the fallen Sunday night, as several dozen city residents joined for a quiet walk and prayers in Morningside Heights.

Bruce Cott, 56, a lifelong resident of Harlem, said he came out to pay his respects to the two NYPD officer killed on Saturday, and also to continue speaking out against the police's role in the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island. He and others said they were not against police, but against violence.

"I'm out here for a better community,” Cott said. “So we can all live in peace and be safe walking the streets.”

Sunday's vigil was organized by Justice League NYC, a group that has planned some of the larger anti-police brutality protests recently and met with Mayor Bill de Blasio last week.

The group gathered at a traffic circle at the northwest corner of Central Park, singing “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine” as organizers passed out tea and candles.

In a marked shift from the anti-NYPD chants at many previous protests, those who attended the vigil said that protesters denouncing all police as racist need to change their tune.

Rev. Stephen Phelps, a member of the Presbytery of New York City, said he had heard chants calling for “dead cops” at recent demonstrations following the grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in Garner's death.

“We hear essentially violent words from some of our protesters,” said Phelps. “This has to stop.  We can't talk like this anymore."

NYPD unions have criticized the demonstrators, as well as de Blasio, for inciting violence against police, saying that the recent Garner marches were partly to blame for the death of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos on Saturday in Bed-Stuy.

Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, who shot the officers and then killed himself, bragged on Instagram beforehand about his plans to kill police.

After the speakers at Sunday night's vigil, the group walked along the northern edge of Central Park amid brief flurries of snow. Some carried signs that read “Imagine Justice” and “Claim Humanity.”

Patricia Bowles, 55, of Harlem, had planned to attend the march in honor of Eric Garner. Now she added the fallen policemen to those for whom she would pray.

“Life matters,” she said. “It doesn't matter what color. Police life matters, too.”