Parents, especially those of young African-American men, for decades have trained their children to be cautious if they encounter law enforcement authorities, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday. But the tension between police and communities, he added, won’t be reduced unless the country has an “honest conversation” about the recent fatal police shootings of unarmed black men.
“We have to have an honest conversation in this country about a history of racism. We have to have an honest conversation in this country about the problem that has caused parents to feel their children may be in danger in their dynamics with police,” he said Sunday during an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. De Blasio said he and his wife long ago began advising their biracial son, Dante, to obey officers’ commands, should they ever question him.
“We knew, sadly, there was a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color,” de Blasio said. “It’s different for a white child. That’s just the reality in this country.”
Unrest continued around the country over the weekend in response to the grand jury decision on Wednesday not to indict New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner on July 17. Garner, who was black and unarmed, died after being placed in an apparent chokehold by Pantaleo, who is white, on a street corner in Staten Island. The officer was trying to arrest Garner for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. The scene, in which Garner says 11 times, “I can’t breathe,” was captured on video, and since has been widely viewed. A week earlier, a St. Louis grand jury chose not to charge criminally police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
In August, de Blasio promised to ensure a fair and justified outcome in the Garner case. During the ABC interview on Sunday, he denied commenting on the judicial process, and instead spoke about improving relations between the police department and community. Stephanopoulos questioned de Blasio about his outlook on the grand jury’s decision, to which the mayor said he respects the judicial process and the reality that both the federal government and NYPD began civil rights and administrative investigations, respectively.
Following the Garner decision, de Blasio said the outcome was “profoundly personal” for him. “There’s that fear that there could be that one moment of misunderstanding with a young man of color, and that young man may never come back. That’s what parents are so worried about,” he said on Sunday.
De Blasio’s previous comments angered local cops. Patrick Lynch, chief of the NYPD union, accused the Democratic mayor of “throwing [police officers] under the bus.” But speaking with with CBS News’ Bob Schieffer on Sunday, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said de Blasio is “very supportive” of the city’s officers.
“This mayor, my mayor, Bill de Blasio, is probably one of the best I’ve ever worked with,” Bratton said during the interview. “This is a mayor that has been very, very supportive of equipping the police to deal with many of the issues that the city is facing. He’s a progressive, he certainly wants police to police constitutionally, compassionately, respectfully, which is why he’s hired me because we are both of a shared mind on that issue.”
De Blasio said he believes the solution to improving the relationship includes requiring officers nationwide to wear body cameras and retraining police to show them how to deescalate and use less violent approaches when possible. Bratton’s goal of retraining the entire police force will make a huge difference in improving the relationship between law enforcement authorities and residents, de Blasio said on Sunday.
The NYPD is spending more than $200 million outside of its budget on new equipment, including providing each officer with Smartphone technology, and almost $50 million on overtime training, Bratton said. Prior to Garner’s death, he added, the department initiated a full retraining of the 22,000 officers who work in the field, a three-day course that will be held annually.
“There’s probably no department in America right now that’s doing more on these issues,” he said of the NYPD’s efforts.
Also in New York City, a novice officer fatally shot a 28-year-old man in a Brooklyn stairwell last month in what authorities said appeared to be an accidental discharge. Two other NYPD officers are under criminal investigation after being caught on surveillance video pistol-whipping a teenage marijuana suspect in August.
As a result of the recent decisions, as well as the fatal police shootings of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, and of 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix, Arizona, thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in multiple cities. On Wednesday night, following the decision in the Garner case, large crowds blocked highways and chanted messages, including, “no justice, no peace” and “black lives matter.” They continued over the weekend, mostly peacefully, acting on the underlying consistent demands of an end to racial profiling and police brutality, and the demilitarization of local law enforcement.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, on Saturday urged the public to continue protesting. She spoke with local civil-rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton during a public appearance in the New York City borough of Harlem. Sharpton, leader of the National Action Network, is planning a march for next Saturday in Washington, D.C. The event will include the families of Garner, Brown and Trayvon Martin, who was killed by a neighborhood-watch volunteer in February 2012.
“Of course people respond when they see a tragedy like this. They see it through their own eyes, through their own prism of their family. We can’t deny that and act like that isn’t a reality,” de Blasio said on Sunday.
Seventy percent of African-Americans said they think the decisions not to indict policemen in the killings of unarmed black men have decreased their confidence in the country’s legal system, according to a recent NBC News/Marist poll. Just 9% said the outcomes have increased their confidence. For white people, the split is smaller: 35% said their confidence has lessened, and 21% said it has risen.