Mayor Bill de Blasio, trying to stanch the bitter fallout from the slayings of two policemen, called Monday for an end to angry rhetoric and protests alleging police brutality as all sides work to “knit our city together.”
His appeal was one in a string of high-profile calls for calm following Saturday’s slayings of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, whose deaths have angered police union leaders and cast a shadow over a civilian-led movement pressing for police reforms.
Investigators said the officers’ killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, apparently acted alone. New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce described Brinsley, 28, as “a very disturbed young man” who left behind a trove of online rants suggesting he was enraged over deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement.
Boyce said 119 postings on Brinsley’s Instagram account included an anti-government tirade on Nov. 25. The postings invoked the names of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and other black males whose violent deaths have helped fuel a growing national protest movement, Boyce said.
Nov. 25 was one day after a grand jury declined to indict the white police officer who shot Brown to death in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
“He goes on quite extensively … about America and its inequities. Quite a bit,” Boyce said of Brinsley’s posts. A video found among the 7,000 images on Brinsley’s cellphone shows that he also was at a Dec. 1 demonstration in Manhattan that was called to protest the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died in July after a scuffle with a New York policeman.
The video indicated that Brinsley only watched and filmed the protest but did not take part, Boyce said. Police also said that hours before killing the officers, Brinsley held a gun to his head after breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment outside Baltimore. She talked him into putting the gun down, but he later shot and critically wounded her before fleeing and heading for New York.
Police say all indications are that Brinsley was not part of any organized group, but the actions of one man have reverberated across the city and led to an outpouring of anger, sadness and frustration at the politicization of the officers’ killings.
“We are not anti-police,” said Emerald Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, as she visited a memorial to the officers and appealed for an end to finger-pointing. Critics of De Blasio, including police union leaders, have accused him and marchers protesting the death of Garner and others of creating a climate that encouraged Brinsley’s rampage.
“We have to be peaceful,” said Emerald Garner, 23, who visited the memorial to show her support for the slain officers’ families. “I know firsthand what you’re feeling.”
The memorial has been growing steadily since Saturday, and it is a reflection of the city’s diversity. On Monday, a Muslim prayer mat lay beside small Christmas trees, wreaths, and scores of candles and bouquets. There was a large menorah; red, white and blue bunting; an American flag; and handwritten signs expressing support for police.
A steady stream of people stopped by to kneel in prayer or just look at the memorial and leave offerings.
There were no signs of protesters, other than one man blaming Wall Street for the nation’s economic ills as he walked through the crowd. But a representative of civil rights leader Al Sharpton’s National Action Network said it was up to individuals to decide whether they wanted to heed the call to halt their protests until after Liu and Ramos were laid to rest.
“Our protests have always been peaceful,” said Kirsten John Foy, who accompanied Garner to the memorial. Foy, president of the National Action Network’s Brooklyn chapter, said demonstrations were part of a conversation that had to take place if the distrust between police and some communities can be fixed.
“We have to have this conversation,” Foy said.
De Blasio and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton visited the homes of Liu and Ramos. Liu, 32, was the only child of Chinese immigrants and had been married for two months. Ramos, 40, was the father of a 13-year-old boy.
“And all I can say is, this is a time for every New Yorker to think about these families,” De Blasio said. “Focus on these families. Put them first.” He urged a halt to protests, which have included “die-ins” designed to block foot traffic in public places such as Grand Central Terminal and marches that have halted road traffic on major arteries.
He said the break in protests and in angry rhetoric should last at least until both officers were buried. A service for Ramos is scheduled for Saturday. Bratton said city officials were working to help relatives of Liu obtain visas so they could come from China for his funeral, which had not yet been scheduled.
“With no warning, their loved one was gone,” said De Blasio, who has called Brinsley’s killing of the officers an attack on the entire city. “The attack on them was an attack on all of us. It was an attack on our democracy, it was an attack on our values, it was an attack on every single New Yorker.”
One police union leader, Patrick Lynch, last week had urged officers to sign a letter demanding that De Blasio not attend their funerals in the event they died on duty. Lynch has accused De Blasio of indulging protesters and not giving police the official support they need to do their jobs.
Asked whether he planned to attend the funerals of Liu and Ramos, De Blasio said, “Absolutely.”
Ramos and Liu were the first New York police officers shot to death on duty in three years.
Bratton said that since the attack, the department had received “a number of copycat threats.”
“As of this time, none of them have proven to be anything of significance,” he said.
Bratton also said that he had spoken to the city’s police unions and that they had agreed to stop making politically charged statements until after the officers’ funerals.