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Invoking King's memory, de Blasio, Sharpton try to mend fences with NYPD

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hugs

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hugs the Rev. Al Sharpton, during the National Action Network's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Policy Forum in Manhattan on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Credit: Charles Eckert

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Rev. Al Sharpton embraced after giving heartfelt speeches that promised their commitment to social justice while respecting the NYPD as they vowed to mend fences between police and the community.

The two men were with a dozen elected officials who spoke to several hundred National Action Network members and supporters at Sharpton's House of Justice in Harlem, where they noted the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"We are not anti-police. We respect the police who put their lives on the line for us," said Sharpton, whose organization hired five tour buses to bring supporters to Brooklyn to lay wreaths where slain officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were shot and killed Dec. 20 while sitting in their police cruiser.

Ramos' and Liu's assailant, who killed himself afterward, earlier on social media had sought revenge for the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. Garner died last summer when a police officer used an apparent chokehold banned by the police department as he was being arrested, after being accused of selling untaxed loose cigarettes.

Garner's daughter, wife and mother also went to Brooklyn to place a wreath where the officers were killed. Sharpton and his supporters then went to Staten Island to lay a wreath where Garner died.

In his speech, de Blasio echoed Sharpton's sentiments. "We are looking for mutual respect between police and community. Martin Luther King would want us to move forward toward unity."

The mayor also criticized antipolice protesters who have been marching across the city since a Staten Island grand jury failed to indict police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner's death.

The city's police union leaders contend massive marches resulted in the assault of two officers. Also, police union leaders have criticized the mayor as not supporting police. In a show of reconciliation with police, de Blasio said: "There are a few who spew hate to the ones who protect us. Then there are those who purport to want to change policy by using vicious and vile attacks against police officers. You are not taking us forward but moving us backward. . . . Let our [goal] be that police and the community can come together."

Giving speeches at Sharpton's headquarters has become a Martin Luther King Jr. Day tradition for elected officials, who come to pay homage to Sharpton and the slain 1960s civil rights leader.

"There is a sense in this city that the scale of justice is tilted against us," said city Public Advocate Letitia James, who filed a lawsuit to unseal the Garner grand jury minutes. "We need to bring air and light to our government. That is how it works best. We cannot work in darkness." Other elected officials who spoke included Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan).

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