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Community leaders, pastors, politicians encourage truce between police, mayor

Members of Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps observe a

Members of Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps observe a moment of silence at a vigil for recent victims of violence in Brooklyn on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

About 200 people representing various houses of worship rallied in Brooklyn Sunday afternoon for reconciliation between the NYPD, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the community following the slayings of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

The Rev. James R. Green Jr., pastor of the Universal Baptist Church, led the crowd in prayer. White balloons were released as the names of 12 people killed by gun violence were read, including Ramos and Liu. Also mentioned was Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after a police officer appeared on cellphone video to place him in a chokehold.

"Too many policemen are dying; too many blacks are dying; too many young people are dying," Green said. "All lives matter. . . . We come because we realize this community needs peace. We are praying for peace between the community and our police officers. We don't want to see any more police officers die. We don't want to see any more community people die. We don't want to see any more of our young boys die."

The rally was held following a turbulent time for relations between the community and police in New York City. Rounds of street protests occurred after a Staten Island grand jury declined last month to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who used an apparent chokehold in Garner's death in July. Then came the slayings of Ramos and Liu, which led to a deterioration of relations between de Blasio and the police unions.

Hundreds of police officers turned their backs on the mayor in silent protest at the officers' funerals and thousands more participated in a work slowdown, issuing some 90 percent fewer summonses.

The Rev. Clive Neil, pastor of the Bedford-Central Presbyterian Church in Crown Heights, called for healing between the mayor and the police department.

"We pray that whatever the issues are, that civility and commitment and joy will be restored in this city," Neil said.

Amid the ordinary men, women and children who marched from several churches to Restoration Plaza on Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, were Ellisha Garner, the sister of Eric Garner, city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James.

Several uniformed police officers stood watch during the hourlong rally, which also was attended by the commanding officer of the 79th Precinct, Deputy Insp. John Chell, who waved and gave a thumbs-up when a clergy member gave him a shout-out.

Stringer, speaking to reporters afterward, called on de Blasio and the NYPD to "put aside differences for the sake of our city and work to build the trust that is so critical toward the prosperity of our city."

Stringer, who said he could not estimate what fiscal impact the police work slowdown had, said all sides should "sort of chill out and in the spirit of the new year come together and work on these issues."

He added: "It is critical that they find a path toward cooperation because the future of our city, the future of our children, are at stake. This is a fundamental issue that drives everything that is important to New York. As the city's chief fiscal officer, I can tell you that our economic growth is contingent on safety in our streets."

David Grant, 43, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant and attended the rally with his daughter, D'Asia Grant, 11, said he was eager to see relationships between police and the community mended.

"The community, as well as the police department, needs to have some type of healing," said Grant, an outreach worker with the Save Our Streets nonviolence advocacy group. "The community and the police will be stronger working together."

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