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Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Bill de Blasio roundtable on Eric Garner aims to calm racial tensions

(L-R) Rev. Al Sharpton, Father Greg Chisholm, Cardinal

(L-R) Rev. Al Sharpton, Father Greg Chisholm, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Mayor de Blasio laugh as Rabbi Michael Miller tells a joke to the press on Aug. 20, 2014. Credit: Jeremy Bales

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Mayor Bill de Blasio united religious and law enforcement leaders behind a call for calm and collaboration Wednesday, days before a Staten Island march protesting the police-involved death of Eric Garner.

"Religion in this great city is a cause of bringing people together," Dolan said. "It's a bridge. It's a source of reconciliation and peace and unity."

The archbishop hosted de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, the Rev. Al Sharpton and about a dozen other Christian, Jewish and Islamic clergy at his Manhattan residence for a two-hour, closed-door roundtable discussion on police and community relations.

"We've experienced a tragedy with the death of Eric Garner," de Blasio said at a joint news conference afterward. "But this is not about a single incident or being mired in the past. This is about a very purposeful and consistent effort forward."

The roundtable was the second such event since Garner's July 17 death after he was put in a banned chokehold by an NYPD officer. But it is the first since violent protests wracked Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown, 18, was shot to death there by police.

The clergy members resolved to use their churches, synagogues and mosques to help diffuse racially tinged tensions between the NYPD and minority communities. First lady Chirlane McCray also attended the roundtable, the only woman to do so. The group said it believes New York City can continue to be unlike any other municipality in its readiness to draw together in difficult times.

"What you see here is the belief that out of crises can come great good, and that will be our common endeavor," Bratton said.

Sharpton, who will lead the march for Garner, 43, on Saturday, took a more conciliatory and less combative tone with the NYPD than he had previously.

"All police are not bad. Most police are not bad," he said, adding that an individual officer's actions should not color the department as a whole.

In contrast, the civil rights leader had openly blasted Bratton at a City Hall roundtable July 31 for his officers' "broken windows" policy of targeting petty crimes. Garner was arrested on suspicion of peddling untaxed cigarettes.

De Blasio emphasized that the job of the NYPD should be to "protect and respect."

The officials stressed their expectations of a peaceful demonstration, which is to begin at the Tompkinsville site of Garner's arrest and end at the Staten Island district attorney's office.

Sharpton said members of Brown's family will attend, though his parents will remain in Ferguson to prepare for his funeral Monday.

Bratton said he expects "self-policing" of the marchers.

De Blasio, who does not plan to attend, said a violence- and conflict-free rally would best honor Garner. "This must be a peaceful protest to honor the cause it represents," he said.

The medical examiner has ruled Garner's death a homicide, and Staten Island prosecutors on Tuesday said they will present evidence to a special grand jury in the case.

-- With Matthew Chayes

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