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Politics

De Blasio Caught Between Protests, Police

NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected last year after making promises to keep crime low while improving relations between police and the community.

As the tensions between those promises continue to mount,  Dec. 19th showed just how tricky threading that needle has been.

In the morning, de Blasio met with leaders of the protests that have swept through New York City in the weeks after a grand jury declined to indict the police officer who placed Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold while trying to arrest him.

In the afternoon, he ventured to New York Police Department headquarters to heap praise on the force, a week after an angry police union circulated a petition to bar him from any NYPD funerals.

And in the evening, a pair of protests — one pro-police, the other against — were held outside City Hall, with each side yelling at the other while claiming a lack of support from its occupant.

“The mayor is making a big mistake. The police are the most important thing to control what goes on in this city,” said Andrew Insardi, whose brother is a retired NYPD officer.

De Blasio, the city’s first Democratic mayor in a generation, formerly was an activist who, were he not holding office, likely would have participated in the protest marches that have become a near-nightly ritual after a Staten Island grand jury declined to charge the officer, who is white, in the death of Garner, who was black and repeatedly yelled “I can’t breathe!” in his final moments, which were captured on video.

The mayor has voiced support for the protesters’ rights, and the traffic-snarling protests have largely been peaceful, though a recent poll found that they are opposed by a majority of New Yorkers. He met with members of the activist group Justice League NYC and said he agreed with some of their proposals — including the need to retrain officers — but would not disavow the “Broken Windows” theory of policing, which cracks down on low-level offenses in an effort to stop more serious crimes.

De Blasio also took pains to say he supports Police Commissioner William Bratton and, hours later in a speech at a NYPD promotions ceremony, heaped praise on officers for their restraint during the protests.

“There is a respect, in some cases, even an awe at what his department has done in recent weeks,” he said. “This is the finest police force in the land.”

De Blasio was met with polite applause from the crowd at the auditorium at 1 Police Plaza, a far cry from the vitriol directed his way recently from the police unions. Furious that the mayor invoked the warnings he has given his son, who is half black, about being careful around police in light of the Garner decision, the unions accused de Blasio of abandoning them.

The main rank-and-file police union went a step further and began a push to prohibit de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, his ally, from attending any funeral of any officer killed in the line of duty.

The unions themselves steered clear of the small pro-police rally outside City Hall. A few dozen people, including some wearing T-shirts bearing the words “I can breathe,” stared down a larger, louder crowd that denounced police violence and took up chants like “How do you spell racist? N-Y-P-D,” and “Black lives matter.”

There were no immediate reports of altercations or arrests.

(JONATHAN LEMIRE)

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