NY mayor calls for protest halt
As the New York Police Department mourns two of its own, Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded for a pause in protests amid a widening rift with those in a grieving force who accuse him of creating a climate of mistrust that contributed to the killings of two officers.
Mr De Blasio called for a halt of political statements until after the funerals of the dead officers, an appeal to both sides in a dispute centred on the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.
"We are in a very difficult moment. Our focus has to be on these families," Mr de Blasio said yesterday at police headquarters, referring to the families of the two officers.
"I think it's a time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in all due time."
The mayor's relations with the city's police unions have tumbled to an extraordinary new low in the aftermath of Saturday's shooting - an ambush the gunman claimed was retaliation for the police-involved deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
In a display of defiance, dozens of police officers turned their backs on Mr de Blasio as the mayor walked through the hospital where the officers died.
And union leaders said the mayor had "blood on his hands" for enabling the protesters who have swept the streets of New York this month since a grand jury declined to charge an officer over Mr Garner's chokehold death.
Mr de Blasio, though he said he did not agree with the union leaders' comments, largely tried to strike a unifying note in his first extensive question-and-answer session since the shooting.
He said he was confident the city was "working toward a day where we can achieve greater harmony toward policing and community".
Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were ambushed on Saturday afternoon by a 28-year-old who vowed in an Instagram post that he would put "wings on pigs".
The suspect, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, was black, and the dead officers were Hispanic and Asian.
The killings came as police across the US are being criticised following Mr Garner's death and the shooting death of the 18-year-old Mr Brown. Both Mr Garner and Mr Brown were unarmed. Protests erupted after grand juries declined to charge officers in either case.
Yesterday a prosecutor said a white Milwaukee police officer who was fired after he fatally shot a mentally ill black man in April will not face criminal charges.
The brother of the dead man, though clearly angry, urged protesters to remain peaceful.
Mr de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton met the two officers' grieving families yesterday.
The Rev Al Sharpton, a close de Blasio ally, and other protest leaders said yesterday they would not heed the mayor's call to suspend demonstrations.
Investigators continued to depict Brinsley as an emotionally troubled loner. He had an extensive criminal record and was involved in a 2011 stand-off with police in Georgia that ended with officers using a stun gun on him, according to records.
Police are trying to determine Brinsley's whereabouts in the two hours he was in New York before killing the officers.
Surveillance video shows him holding a foam food container that investigators believe held the gun he used. After the shooting, he then ran into a nearby subway station and killed himself.
Police said Brinsley was a bystander during a protest in Manhattan's Union Square two days before the Garner grand jury decision but had not participated.
It remained unclear if Brinsley simply latched onto the cause at the end of a violent rampage that began on Saturday morning in Baltimore when he shot his ex-girlfriend in the stomach.
The woman said Brinsley had first held the gun to his own head but she talked him down, authorities said.
The police unions - who even before the weekend shooting had circulated a petition to ban the mayor from attending police funerals - blame Mr de Blasio for fostering anti-police sentiment.
Sergeants Benevolent Associations head Edward Mullins refused to back down from that stance, saying that "the mayor has turned his back on us - he got elected on his campaign of attacking the police all along".
Mr Bratton said representatives from the five unions had agreed to stand down until after the funerals, but he also downplayed their tensions with Mr de Blasio.
"Can you point out to me one mayor who has not been battling with police unions in the last 50 years? Name one," he said to reporters at police headquarters.
"The experience of this mayor of some cops not liking him, it's nothing new."