Sharpton faces off with de Blasio, Bratton on NYPD practices

Mayor Bill de Blasio hosts a roundtable on Mayor Bill de Blasio hosts a roundtable on police-community relations with Reverend Al Sharpton and Commissioner Bill Bratton on Thursday, July 31, 2014. Photo Credit: Agaton Strom

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In a contentious meeting at City Hall, the Rev. Al Sharpton challenged Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton Thursday to make more sweeping policy changes at the NYPD to answer recent complaints of excessive force.

With Bratton sitting to his right and Sharpton to his left, along with a group of black clergy leaders, de Blasio defended his commissioner and said his administration was addressing issues of police conduct following the July 17 death of Eric Garner during a Staten Island arrest for an alleged petty offense.

One of the arresting officers was shown on a bystander's amateur video using what appeared to be a banned chokehold on Garner, 43.

"If Dante wasn't your son, he'd be a candidate for a chokehold," Sharpton told de Blasio, who listened intently.

Last year, de Blasio featured his biracial son Dante, 16, in campaign ads to promote his understanding of black New Yorkers' concerns about police practices. Sharpton, who has been a close ally of de Blasio, said Thursday he expects more from him now.

"I think that your ability to show some sensitivity is what raised hope and gave you the plurality that you got to become mayor," he said. "But now, I think we've got to go from that hope to actuality."

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He warned the mayor: "If we are going to just play spin games, I'll be the worst enemy because I am tired of seeing people bury their kin."

Sharpton criticized Bratton's "broken-windows" theory of policing -- in which officers focus on small-level offenses to deter bigger crimes -- saying "it's disproportionate in the black and Latino community."

In response, de Blasio said: "I take Reverend Sharpton's admonition to heart: The time is now. I don't think in anything we came here to do, that we expected to wait to make change."

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But de Blasio robustly defended Bratton as "the finest police leader in the United States of America, period." The mayor, who tasked Bratton with improving relations with black and Latino communities and rely less on controversial stop-and-frisk tactics, has firmly backed the broken-windows strategy.

Bratton said he disagreed with some of what Sharpton said, but conceded that a consequence of Garner's death has been to "erode confidence in the police and erode confidence in what our intentions are."

Addressing reporters after the meeting, Bratton detailed in broad outlines how tens of thousands of officers who have regular encounters with the public would be retrained in the aftermath of the Garner case. It would be "hands-on training" -- two or three days and cost the city "tens of millions of dollars," Bratton said.

Sharpton said during the roundtable that retraining isn't enough -- "that the best way to make police stop using illegal chokeholds is to perp-walk one of them that did."

The officer under investigation by the Staten Island district attorney in the Garner case has been stripped of his badge and gun.

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During the meeting, protesters rallied in the plaza outside City Hall, shouting slogans and expressing dissatisfaction with the NYPD.

"Broken Windows = Broken Lives," one sign said.

Asked about those rallying outside, Bratton called them "the usual cast of characters."

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