NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Hours after the Rev. Al Sharpton tweeted that he will march across the Verrazano Bridge Aug. 23 to protest the death of Eric Garner while in police custody, Westchester County Executive and Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino issued a statement calling on Sharpton to cease his plans and for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to deny closure of the bridge.
“Al Sharpton should immediately cease his plans to protest across the Verrazano Bridge, and I’m calling on Governor Cuomo to prohibit closure of the bridge, which would have a catastrophic impact on the safety, traffic and livelihood of thousands of New Yorkers,” Astorino said.
“Reverend Sharpton has a right to protest in a public place appropriate for demonstrations, but the Verrazano Bridge is not one of them. There is no pedestrian walkway and a protest could not occur without complete closure of the bridge and massive inconvenience to the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn. No one has the right to close public thoroughfares. Governor Cuomo must deny Reverend Sharpton access to the bridge.”
U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) also denounced Sharpton’s plan.
“Staten Island already bears the burden as the traffic and pothole capital of the country, not to mention having the most exorbitant toll in the nation. To close our only direct passage to the rest of the City on a summer travel weekend is a recipe for total disaster” Grimm said in a statement.
“There’s a reason the bridge has rarely been closed in its 50-year history; because the major disruption and safety risks are massive: our small businesses – already coping with the outrageous tolls – would bear an even greater financial burden, families would be severely impacted, and the Staten Island Expressway would be a parking lot,” Grimm continued. “FDNY and EMT facilities in southern Brooklyn that serve Staten Island’s north shore neighborhoods would be cut off in the event of an emergency, and that is unacceptable.”
CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer asked Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Adam Lisberg about Sharpton’s plan. Lisberg responded, “Declining to discuss this, sorry.”
Sharpton convened a meeting with dozens of activists on West 42nd Street Wednesday morning and emerged from the session to assail the police unions who claim a chokehold was not used in the death of Garner.
“They’re defending something illegal,” Sharpton told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb. “Can you imagine me holding a press conference defending an illegal act? And then questioning a medical examiner when they never examined the body? How can you question whether the medical examiner was right when the medical examiner examined the body and you examined the newspaper?”
Sharpton also attacked the idea of an NYPD slowdown, asking, “A slowdown to support an illegal act? What message does that send to kids?”
On Tuesday, police advocates fired back against a rising tide of anger fueled by the death of Garner, who died in police custody.
Leaders of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association emphatically and repeatedly denied that the officers involved in the case used a chokehold while arresting Garner.
“In recent weeks, the reputations of New York City police officers have been tarnished by the words of many,” said PBA President Patrick Lynch.
The police union also called the medical examiner’s report “political.” The report ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by the officer’s chokehold as well chest and neck compressions and prone positioning “during physical restraint by police.” Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.
Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, died last month shortly after being arrested for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island.
In cellphone video of the incident, an officer is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.
Garner, who weighed at least 350 pounds suffered from asthma, is heard saying repeatedly in the video, “I can’t breathe!”
Chokeholds are banned by the NYPD, but allowed under state law.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Garner in the apparent chokehold, was stripped of his gun and badge pending the investigation. Another officer was placed on desk duty. Two paramedics and two emergency medical technicians were suspended without pay.
Despite the unions’ denial, police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday that what Pantaleo did in the video appears to be a chokehold.
“Everybody has a right to their opinion about what they saw in that video,” Bratton said.
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