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Alton Sterling, Philando Castile Shootings Left Bill de Blasio 'Reeling'

By Jeff Mays | July 8, 2016 9:55am
 Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he was left
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he was left "reeling" after viewing videos of fatal police shootings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. Here, the mayor is pictured with Police Commissioner William Bratton during a July 4, 2016 press conference.
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Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

MORRIS HEIGHTS — Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he was left "reeling" after viewing videos of fatal police shootings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.

"Just like so many Americans, I'm just reeling from having watched these videos. It's an unacceptable state of affairs. This is not what America is supposed to be," de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference in The Bronx.

The mayor, who is the father of a bi-racial son, Dante, and daughter, Chiara, said the videos of the shooting death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the aftermath the Philando Castile shooting in St. Paul, Minnesota, sends fear through the hearts of parents of people of color because "almost always a young man of color" is the victim.

"My feelings are the same as they've always been. No parent of color or parent of a child of color can watch that video and not be afraid. You fear for the life of a child when you see a situation like this because it's inexplicable," de Blasio said.

Especially frightening said de Blasio is that Castile, according to his girlfriend, followed instructions from the officer.

"For parents, that is a devastating example because we are telling our kids do everything the officer says and you'll be safe," the mayor said.

The remarks come at some risk for de Blasio, who ran on a platform of reducing stop-and-frisk, which a federal judge said discriminated against black and Latino men, and improving relations between the NYPD and communities of color.

The mayor faced a near-mutiny in 2014 from rank-and-file NYPD officers when he said that he had to train his son Dante how to interact with police in the wake of the chokehold death of Staten Island man Eric Garner at the hands of police.

When two officers were executed while sitting in their patrol car months later, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch said de Blasio had "blood" on his hands.

And the mayor has faced criticism from onetime supporters in the police reform community for his hiring of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and his strong support of the "broken windows" theory of policing, which holds that paying attention to smaller crimes will help stop larger ones from occurring.

Criminal justice reform advocates say the strategy leads to the types of confrontations that Garner, who was being questioned for selling illegal cigarettes, faced.

Throughout his remarks yesterday, the mayor peppered his comments with repeated praise for law enforcement officers and talked about hiring more police and providing them with new training and equipment.

"Every day we honor and respect everyone who is a part of law enforcement," de Blasio said. "But when you look at those videos it begs the question, what kind of training did those officers receive? What were they told about the way to do their job? Because it's not the right way."

The mayor highlighted his efforts to reform the NYPD, including the retraining of the entire police force in de-escalation techniques following Garner's death, the reduction in stop-and-frisks and marijuana arrests, implicit bias training, community policing, and the city's planned acquisition of police body cameras, part of an order from a federal judge.

The combined efforts could serve as a national model, the mayor said, and should be looked at as a "cause for hope."

Asked if it was correct to criticize police in other cities given the high profile NYPD involved deaths of black men such as Garner, Akai Gurley and Ramarley Graham, over the last few years, the mayor said all three were "horrible incidents" that should have never happened.

"We have plenty of problems in our past, too. I'm not trying to say New York City is perfect. I'm trying to say we have decided, as a result in large measure of those tragedies, to change course," he said.

But de Blasio has still faced criticism because the officers who shot and killed Graham and placed a chokehold around Garner's neck are still on the NYPD's payroll as their cases are examined by federal authorities and the NYPD.

“The de Blasio administration has not created a national model to address police killings— it’s created a model of deflection from accountability," said Yul-san Liem, a spokeswoman for Communities United for Police Reform.

"This administration has failed to address the fundamental lack of accountability for brutality that allows police to unjustly brutalize and kill with impunity in our communities. Training and so-called community policing are no substitute for the failed accountability that de Blasio and Bratton continue to allow," Liem added.

In spite of his concern over how police acted in the Sterling and Castile cases, de Blasio said that the best advice he could give to young people of color would be to continue to obey the commands of police officers.

"We want our young people of color to have faith that if they follow the instruction of a police officer they'll come out OK, so this one is a very painful one," the mayor added.