NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio got an earful Thursday from community and religious leaders who are upset about the death of Eric Garner in police custody and have demanded wholesale changes to NYPD tactics.
The mayor hosted a roundtable meeting at City Hall Thursday with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, the Rev. Al Sharpton and members of the community on how to reform the NYPD.
The discussion was prompted by the death of Garner earlier this month. The 43-year-old father of six died in police custody on Staten Island after he had been stopped by police for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
In cellphone video of the incident, an officer is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck in an apparent choke hold and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.
Garner, who suffered from asthma, is heard saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!”
Choke holds are banned by the NYPD but allowed under state law.
Bratton has promised retraining from top to bottom in the department. But as CBS 2 political reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Sharpton said that was not enough and argued that fundamental change in police policy is needed.
Sharpton and the other activists at the meeting were sharply critical of Bratton’s “broken windows” theory of policing, which involves going after the small crimes – such as those peddling untaxed cigarettes, as Garner was allegedly doing.
“Given the data that we are seeing in terms of these ‘broken window’ kind of operations, it’s disproportionate in the black and Latino community,” Sharpton said to de Blasio. “If Dante wasn’t your son, he’d be a candidate for a choke hold.”
Reporters were only allowed to witness a brief part of the meeting, which also drew a demonstration by community activists outside. Statements by city Councilwoman Deborah Rose of Staten Island, Bratton and de Blasio were issued when reporters were present, but the closed-door confrontation was kept private.
Sharpton said the private meeting mirrored the intensity and the warning to the mayor he issued in public.
“If we’re going to play spin games, I’ll be your worst enemy, because I am tired of seeing people bury their kin,” he said.
De Blasio and Bratton say retraining the police force is the answer.
“Training is absolutely the essential catalyst for, out of this tragedy, finding opportunity,” said Bratton.
“Systemic retraining will have a huge impact, and it will help us to bring out the best ideas,” de Blasio said. “It will help us to draw the police closer to the community and the community closer to the police.”
But Sharpton strongly disagreed.
“Training is important, but you don’t need training if a man is saying 11 times ‘I can’t breathe’ and you’re still holding him in a grip lock,” Sharpton said. “You don’t need training. You need to have people who understand that the law is what they protect and uphold — they’re not above the law.”
Sharpton said the officers involved should be criminally charged to send a message.
“When they understand they’ve got to pay like anyone that breaks the law, it will send a lesson that 10 training lessons will not give them,” Sharpton said, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.
Participants at the meeting also did not buy Bratton’s assertion that he did not think race was a factor in the Garner incident.
“I also happen to think that race is a factor,” said the Rev. Herbert Daughtry.
The mayor urged patience and dialogue.
“Everyone feels a sense of pain over what happened to Eric Garner. It pains us to this hour,” de Blasio said. “Commissioner Bratton is right. We have to find something in this tragedy that will help us get better.”
The meeting was held a day after Bratton met with the NAACP about policing reforms. During the meeting Wednesday, the NAACP called for monitoring during the retraining process.
“What he conceded was that New York City is a very different city, America is a very different country, and we are in a place now where we are in a position where we have to consider serious reforms in the way policing is done,” said NAACP President Cornell Brooks.
Meanwhile, the investigation into Garner’s death continues.
Police said Garner died while being taken to the hospital. A preliminary investigation showed no damage to his windpipe, police said, but an official cause of the death has not been determined.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who used the apparent choke hold on Garner, and another unidentified officer were also placed on modified reassignment pending the outcome of the case.
Four emergency workers were suspended without pay pending an investigation.
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