Local religious leaders convened on Wednesday with Mayor Bill de Blasio and administration officials to discuss what the interfaith community can do to help dial down heightened tensions in the wake of Staten Island man Eric Garner's death while in police custody. Credit: Rob Bennet/NYC Mayor's Office
Local religious leaders convened on Wednesday with Mayor Bill de Blasio and administration officials to discuss what the interfaith community can do to help dial down heightened tensions in the wake of Staten Island man Eric Garner's death while in police custody.
For the mayor, the discussion was about more than the circumstances that led to Garner's death.
"We want this to be a transcendent moment for the city," de Blasio told reporters. "We've experienced tragedy in the death of Eric Garner, but this was not about a single incident or being mired in the past. This is about a purposeful and consistent effort forward."
Hosted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the two-hour meeting also included Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Unlike an earlier roundtable at City Hall last month where Sharpton and Bratton flanked the mayor in an intense discussion about policing methods, Wednesday's group seemed to focus on the role religious and faith institutions in bridging the gap between residents and police.
"We have learned form the mistakes and crises of the past and we will learn from this crisis as we go forward," Bratton said.
Sharpton, who at the last meeting with the mayor and commissioner invoked de Blasio's son as a candidate for a police chokehold if not for his father, gave thanks to the gathered men as he struck a conciliatory tone directed at Bratton.
"We don't have to agree on everything," Sharpton said, "but we don't have to be disagreeable."
Sharpton, who spent Sunday in Missouri to support the family of teenager Michael Brown after he was shot by police, dismissed concerns that a march planned on Saturday for Garner would expect violence like that in Ferguson.
"If it ever were to occur, we would stop it and not tolerate it," he said. "There is a difference between thugs and activists. We're activists. We're not thugs, and we will not harbor thugs."
The Aug. 23 march will caravan protestors across the Verrazano Bridge to the Tompkinsville neighborhood where Garner was arrested for alleged selling loose cigarettes. Eyewitness video showed plainclothes Officer Daniel Pantaleo wrap his arm around Garner's neck. A medical examiner's report determined Garner's death to be a homicide by chokehold, a move disallowed by NYPD since 1993.