NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said Thursday it's up to the MTA whether to let the Rev. Al Sharpton lead a protest march across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Staten Island. The MTA says it's up to the city. The mayor's office won't say.
No sooner had Sharpton's National Action Network announced Wednesday that he would lead thousands across the bridge's upper roadway on Saturday, Aug. 23, for a "March for Justice for Victims of Police Brutality" than several of the borough's politicians began objecting.
Stopping motor vehicles and accommodating marchers would jam traffic, inconvenience Staten Islanders and set a bad precedent, said several Republican elected officials, who demanded that Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which controls the bridge, stop Sharpton's plans.
Staten Island is the destination for the march because it's where Eric Garner, an accused cigarette peddler, died July 17 after a police officer placed him in an apparent chokehold.
On Wednesday evening, MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg, who had been asked for the agency's response to Sharpton's protest plan, emailed reporters to say, "Demonstrations within New York City are overseen by the New York City Police Department."
On Thursday, Bratton told reporters in the City Hall rotunda, "No, not really. They own the bridge.
"Can we police it? We certainly can police it, but the initial authority would have to come from them."
Less than two hours later, Lisberg emailed reporters: "If New York City requests that the MTA closes the bridge to accommodate this event, the MTA will be cooperative."
MTA member Allen Cappelli, chairman of the agency's bridges and tunnel subcommittee, said Wednesday he believes it's the MTA's call on whether to allow the march on the bridge that connects Brooklyn and Staten Island.
De Blasio spokesman Phil Walzak would say only that the city hasn't received an application for a protest march. A spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who chooses the MTA's top leadership, did not return messages seeking comment.
The Verrazano, which has no walkway, is rarely closed to traffic, except for events such as the New York City Marathon.