New York (AFP) – Embattled Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers to put aside politics and protests Monday to mourn two murdered police officers as he sought to head off furious criticism of his conduct.
Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, were shot in the head through the window of their patrol car in broad daylight in Brooklyn on Saturday following weeks of anti-police protests.
Police named the shooter as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, whom officers said had a clear anti-police bias and who shot himself dead on a subway station platform just minutes after the murders.
The killings have rocked America’s largest city and plunged its largest police force into mourning, triggering comparisons with police-community tensions not seen in the city since the 1970s.
“I think it’s a time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests and put aside all of those things we’ll talk about in due time,” de Blasio told a police charity lunch.
“It was an attack on our democracy, it was an attack on our values and attack on every single New Yorker,” he said of the murders.
Police unions lashed out at de Blasio, accusing him of creating a dangerous mood by allowing demonstrators to shut down New York streets in protest at recent police killings of unarmed black men.
Cities across the United States have seen weeks of protests over the killings and decisions not to prosecute white officers responsible for recent deaths in New York and Ferguson, Missouri.
De Blasio, who has biracial children, has fended off mounting criticism for wanting to reform police tactics and allegedly not being sympathetic enough to the problems police face.
On Monday, he praised the force unstintingly and called for a temporary lull in protests until after the funerals take place.
“I would ask that any organizations that were planning events or gatherings for politics or protests, that could be for another day,” de Blasio said.
“Let’s accompany these families on their difficult journey and see them through the funerals. Then debate can begin again.”
De Blasio described Brinsley as a “deeply troubled, violent individual” and called on people to take stock of what unites them as Americans and as New Yorkers, and focus on the families.
At one point seeming to wipe his eye, he went onto urge the community and police to come closer together.
“We all need to understand each other better, we all need to hear each other better,” he said.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton admitted earlier that de Blasio had lost the trust of some officers, but came swinging out in his defense.
“I think he has lost it with some officers,” Bratton told NBC television, comparing the tensions to New York in 1970.
He said that he doesn’t believe “at all” that de Blasio increased the threat to police officers by allegedly not expressing enough sympathy for them by siding with demonstrators.
And he criticized police officers who turned their backs on the mayor at the hospital where the two cops were pronounced dead.
“I don’t support that particular activity, I don’t think it was appropriate, particularly in that setting but it’s reflective of the anger of some of them,” Bratton said.
Two of the most vocal critics have been former New York governor George Pataki and former mayor Rudy Giuliani, both Republicans.
Giuliani said de Blasio should not have allowed protesters to shut down major streets in New York and accused him of participating in “hate speech” against police in the last two or three months.
“I don’t hold the mayor responsible for deaths, but three to four weeks ago I’m telling people a cop is going to get shot here,” he told CNN.
Faced with fears of copycat attacks, patrols by a volunteer auxiliary police — a uniformed but unarmed force — have been cancelled until further notice for the first time since the 1970s.
John Hyland, president of the Auxiliary Police Benevolent Association, told AFP it was a safety issue and that officers were “very, very much” afraid of copycat attacks.
“It could very well have been two auxiliary officers that were killed,” he said.
Liu had been a volunteer with the auxiliary force in Brooklyn before joining the regular NYPD, he said.
AFP Photo/Andrew Burton