Updated: 11:44 am, Tue May 5, 2015

Mayor: Cops Right To Arrest Some Protesters

‘Must Keep Rallies Nonviolent’

By Mark Toor

Mayor de Blasio last week defended the tougher police tactics that resulted in the arrest of 143 protesters April 29 at a rally and march protesting the death of Freddie Gray while in the custody of Baltimore police.

“We’re sending a clear message—the right to protest is sacred, so long as it’s nonviolent,” he told reporters at a press conference the following day. “We will accommodate it. When the police give an instruction, respect the instruction.”

More Aggressive Now

He rejected repeated attempts to compare the response to less-stringent policing of protests in December after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner. In that case, demonstrators forced the closing of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, the Holland Tunnel and the West Side Highway. Police made more than 200 arrests.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association issued a strong statement of support for the Mayor, particularly notable because five months ago the organization and Mr. de Blasio were locked in combat over a grand jury’s refusal to indict a police officer in the Eric Garner case.

“We are gratified by Mayor de Blasio’s strong support for his police officers in these troubled times,” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. “And we hope his remarks signal the beginning of a new era of unanimity between our officers, who serve and protect, and the Mayor.”

The police unions felt Mr. de Blasio’s initial response was dismissive of the criminal-justice system and police officers. They later faulted him for allowing the protesters to block traffic. Tensions escalated to the point where officers outside the funerals of two slain colleagues turned their back on Mr. de Blasio’s image on large screens. Officers then staged a wildcat slowdown that sharply reduced the number of quality-of-life summonses and arrests.

The acrimony lessened in January after Mr. de Blasio made conciliatory moves, including approving funds for new bulletproof vests and softening his position toward fixing line-of-duty-pension inequities. He appears to have calibrated his more recent rhetoric to show sympathy toward police.

‘More-Assertive’ Approach

At the April 29 protests, protesters broke off from the main rally in Union Square and shut down the Holland Tunnel, the West Side Highway and other city streets. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said police would be “more assertive” in dealing with demonstrators who tried to block roads or bridges than they were in December.

At his press conference the following day, Mr. de Blasio rejected efforts by reporters to connect the two responses, complaining they were “editorializing” and telling them, “If you guys want to sensationalize, if you think that’s your contribution to society, feel free.”

He said, “There has to be flexibility, there has to be a case-by-case analysis of what’s going on. If in a certain situation police believe there’s a scenario that could end up being unruly and could lead to violence, of course they need to exercise measures to avoid that, but always within the context of respecting and permitting nonviolent protest.”

Gave Fair Warning

He continued, “I think at the core where the protest was in Union Square at rush hour, in the middle of one of our busiest locations in the city, the police made very clear—they are telling people not to go in the road, they could continue their protest on the sidewalk.

“...When the police give you an instruction, you follow the instruction. It’s not debatable. And I’m saying this as someone who has been at these protests and recognizes when the police say stay to the sidewalk, it means stay to the sidewalk, and that has to be respected. There’s no debate about the fact that the announcements were made multiple times.”

Communities United for Police Reform criticized Mr. de Blasio for refusing “to take responsibility for the systemic lack of respect that the NYPD showed for the rights of peaceful protesters last night by being the ones inciting abuse and violence against New Yorkers.”