Mayor Bill de Blasio called on Monday for a pause in anti-police brutality protests out of respect for the grieving families of NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were gunned down as they sat in their patrol car Saturday.
De Blasio visited Liu's and Ramos' relatives at their Brooklyn homes, accompanied by Police Commissioner William Bratton and first lady Chirlane McCray, and then reached out more directly to officers at an annual luncheon of the Police Athletic League.
"Focus on these families. Put them first," de Blasio said at an afternoon news conference at NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan. "I'm asking everyone -- and this is across the spectrum -- to put aside protests, put aside demonstrations. . . . That's the right way to try and build towards a more unified and decent city."
Bratton said in a morning interview on NBC's "Today" show that the killings were linked to protests over the police-involved deaths of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and grand jury decisions to not indict the officers. Tens of thousands of demonstrators packed New York City streets in recent weeks.
"It's quite apparent, quite obvious that the targeting of these two police officers was a direct spinoff of the issue of these demonstrations," Bratton said.
Liu, 32, and Ramos, 40, were shot execution-style at 2:47 p.m. in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, harbored anti-police sentiments, according to the NYPD, and posted anti-police messages on social media. He killed himself in a subway station after shooting the officers. Investigators were working Monday to piece together Brinsley's final hours.
Brinsley's mother, Shakuwra Dabre, 54, of East New York, Brooklyn, extended condolences to the families of the slain officers in media interviews. "I am deeply sorry about what happened at the hands of my son," she said.
Protests 'for another day'
De Blasio at the luncheon in midtown Manhattan said Liu's and Ramos' families are in "unspeakable pain" and protests can be saved "for another day." He asked that anyone with knowledge of plots or plans for violence against the police immediately come forward to protect the NYPD "just as they protect us."
Justice League NYC, a protest organizer backed by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons that met privately with the mayor on Friday, issued a statement calling the officers' slayings "senseless acts of violence." But the group did not indicate it would stop demonstrating.
"We will continue to seek all avenues towards justice" so long as demands such as removing Officer Daniel Pantaleo, seen putting Garner in an apparent chokehold, from the NYPD payroll and ending the "broken windows" theory of policing low-level crime aren't met, group representatives said in the statement. "There is an . . . urgency to address these issues. The time is now."
Bratton at NYPD headquarters said he spoke to the five police unions about the need for calm and suggested that after the funerals, they can "return to dialogue where we can hopefully resolve whatever differences are out there."
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch in an interview Monday with NBC New York said the union "is focusing on burying our two brother police officers," but will seek answers afterward.
"Why did this happen? Who caused it? What inflamed it? And they should be held responsible," Lynch said.
Bratton on the "Today" show defended de Blasio against criticism by the police unions after acknowledging that the mayor has lost some police trust. "I think he has lost it with some officers," Bratton said.
"Do some officers not like this mayor? Guaranteed," he said later at the news conference at NYPD headquarters. "Can you point out to me one mayor that has not been battling with the police unions in the last 50 years? Name one. Name one. . . . It's part of life, part of politics."
Backs turned on de Blasio
On Saturday, de Blasio met with the officers' families at Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn where dozens of police officers in uniform were seen on video turning their backs to the mayor as he walked down the hallway.
Lynch said at a hospital news conference, "Blood on the hands starts at the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor."
The PBA earlier this month circulated a letter suggesting that officers ban de Blasio from their funerals should they die in the line duty. De Blasio said Monday that he plans to attend both Liu's and Ramos' services.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo visited the Ramos family in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, on Sunday and the Liu family in Gravesend, Brooklyn, Monday.
De Blasio said Ramos' relatives "have strong Christian faith" and "strongly believe in public service." He said the Liu family members are "feeling such a profound pain and fear. For the parents, this was their only child, their only son."
Liu's widow, Pei Xia Chen, whom he married just two months ago, spoke publicly for the first time Monday, reading a statement that thanked the NYPD, neighbors and other supporters.
Garner's youngest daughter, Emerald, 22, paid her respects at the makeshift memorial at the site of the officers' shooting, accompanied by members of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network.
She said she sympathized with Ramos' 13-year-old son, Jaden, who on Sunday posted a Facebook message mourning his father. Emerald Garner also had a message for violent protesters: "There's room for you on the peaceful side."
With Anthony M. DeStefano, John Asbury, Scott Eidler, Michael Gormley, Alison Fox and Dan Rivoli