By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
NEW YORK – Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined calls Monday for a halt to angry rhetoric in the wake of the weekend slayings of two policemen by a gunman whose actions have threatened to derail progress toward mending relations among police, politicians and activists demanding law enforcement reforms.
“I think it’s time for a societal deep breath,” Cuomo told WNYC radio. He did not specifically urge a halt to activists’ demonstrations alleging police brutality, but his message indicated that protests should be put on hold at least through the end of the week, as should provocative statements from leaders on all sides of the issue.
“Let’s bring a moment of peace and calm,” Cuomo said. “Let’s go to the funerals, let’s join with the families in grieving, let’s go through the holy week.”
Tempers flared among police union leaders after officers Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, were shot dead by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, as the pair sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn on Saturday. Authorities said Brinsley killed himself shortly after the attack.
The leaders of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association, two major police unions, accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of failing to provide the kind of leadership necessary to bolster public support for police and said his lenience toward protesters had laid the groundwork for Brinsley’s rampage.
Brinsley had posted anti-cop statements online before the shootings. But he had a long criminal history, had been treated for mental health issues, and had shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend outside Baltimore hours before coming to New York to attack the police.
Officials say his true motivations are unclear, and most leaders in New York have described him as a thug and a madman rather than a killer with a political agenda.
Whatever fueled Brinsley’s rage, his rampage has led to a polarization that Cuomo and other leaders, including Police Commissioner William Bratton, say is tearing at the fabric of the nation’s largest city.
“It’s starting to shape up along partisan lines, which is unfortunate,” Bratton told NBC’s Today on Monday. “This is something that should be bringing us all together.”
He compared the tensions in New York to the 1970s in Boston, when he was a policeman there during that city’s racially tense period of court-ordered busing to desegregate public schools. “Who would’ve ever thought deja vu all over again, that we’d be back where we were 40-some-odd years ago,” Bratton said.
Cuomo said the anger being expressed now was reminiscent of the rage that arose during some of New York City’s most volatile moments, including the race riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 1991 and racially charged unrest that occurred in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens in 1986.
Just as the city overcame those events, Cuomo said it can get through the current crisis if all sides take a “cooling off period.”
“When people stop yelling, then they can start hearing,” he said.
Neither Cuomo nor Bratton would criticize either De Blasio or Patrick Lynch, the leader of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Lynch said after the officers’ murders that De Blasio had blood on his hands. Several officers turned their backs on De Blasio in protest when he arrived at the hospital Saturday night where the officers were taken.
“I think he has lost it with some officers,” Bratton said when asked if the mayor had lost police support. “It’s reflective of the anger of some of them.”
But he also said that he did not support the officers’ turning their backs on the mayor. Bratton said their anger is rooted not just in the slayings, but in pension and labor issues that have been simmering for years.
Photo: Zach Seward via Flickr