The murders of two New York City officers ambushed in their car in Brooklyn by a man claiming to be retaliating for police killings of unarmed black men prompted calls to tamp down racial tensions.
The ambush of Officers Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, followed online postings by the man, identified by police as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, referring to the deaths of Eric Garner of Staten Island and Michael Brown of Missouri. In both cases, grand juries declined to charge police with wrongdoing, prompting nationwide protests.
“This tragic moment may be an opportunity for people to understand each other,” Pastor Michael A. Walrond Jr. of the 8,000-member First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem said in an interview. “The pain of a mother whose son lay dead on the ground is the same pain of a 13-year-old boy who lost his police officer father. My hope is that this will shock people into coming together.”
The murders, which Mayor Bill de Blasio called a “despicable act,” heightened tension between the mayor and police unions over his comments on the grand jury decision in Garner’s death, and de Blasio’s handling of resulting street protests. At a Dec. 3 news conference, de Blasio cast his reaction in personal terms, saying he and his wife Chirlane, who is black, have spoken with their son, Dante, about being careful dealing with police.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a police officer for 22 years, called on New Yorkers to join him at the scene of the killings in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section for a candlelight vigil in memory of the fallen men.
“It must be perfectly clear that reform can never and must never mean retaliation,” Adams said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
The Justice League, an offshoot of a social justice organization founded by singer Harry Belafonte that met with de Blasio last week, held a candlelight march through Harlem to Walrond’s church to remember “all victims of violence.”
Julian Love, 26, a management consultant who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, said protests need to stay peaceful to really achieve change.
“That’s not going to solve what needs to be solved,” Love said at the Harlem church, referring to violence. “That’s not going to get us justice.”
Reverend Al Sharpton, a New York civil rights leader, said he and the Garner family were outraged by the officers’ killings and that using Garner’s and Brown’s names as justification was “reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice.”
U.S. President Barack Obama denounced the killings and telephoned Police Commissioner William Bratton to offer his “full support for any possible assistance,” according to a White House statement.
Public Advocate Letitia James, New York City’s highest-ranking black official, called for “unity and understanding” following the killings.
“Divisive rhetoric will do nothing to honor the dignity of these two fallen officers or soothe the piercing pain of their families,” she said.
De Blasio took office in January as the first Democrat to run City Hall in 20 years after a campaign that highlighted economic inequality and criticized police policies.
He vowed to end stop-and-frisk tactics that had been challenged in federal court as discriminatory, and reached an agreement with those who sued.
Former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, speaking on the ABC program “This Week,” said the mayor’s statements about protecting his son from police had set off a “firestorm.”
Chris Dolmetsch and Henry Goldman