As the New York Police Department mourns two of its own, Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded for a pause in protests amid a widening rift between himself and the city’s police unions.
Mr De Blasio called for a halt of political statements until after the funerals of the dead officers, an appeal to both sides in a dispute centred on the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.
“We are in a very difficult moment. Our focus has to be on these families,” Mr de Blasio said at police headquarters, referring to the families of the two officers. “I think it’s a time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in all due time.”
The mayor’s relations with the city’s police unions have tumbled to a new low in the aftermath of Saturday’s shooting – an ambush the gunman claimed was retaliation for the police involvement in the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
In a display of defiance, dozens of police officers turned their backs on Mr de Blasio as the mayor walked through the hospital where the officers died.
Union leaders said the mayor had “blood on his hands” for enabling the protesters who have swept on to the streets of New York since a grand jury declined to charge an officer over Mr Garner’s chokehold death.
Mr de Blasio, who said he did not agree with the union leaders’ comments, tried to strike a unifying note in his first extensive, question-and-answer session since the shooting. He said he was confident the city was “working toward a day where we can achieve greater harmony toward policing and community”.
Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were ambushed on Saturday afternoon by a 28-year-old who vowed in an Instagram post that he would put “wings on pigs”. The suspect, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, was black, and the dead officers Hispanic and Asian.
The killings came as police across the US are being criticised following Mr Garner’s death and the shooting dead of the 18-year-old Mr Brown. Both Mr Garner and Mr Brown were unarmed. Protests erupted after grand juries declined to charge officers in either case.
A prosecutor also said a white Milwaukee police officer, fired after he fatally shot a mentally ill black man in April, will not face criminal charges. The brother of the dead man urged protesters to remain peaceful.
Mr de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton met the two officers’ grieving families on Monday, but the Rev Al Sharpton, a close de Blasio ally, and other protest leaders said yesterday they would not heed the mayor’s call to suspend demonstrations.
Investigators revealed that Brinsley was involved in a 2011 stand-off with police in Georgia that ended with officers using a stun gun on him. Brinsley was also a bystander during a protest in Manhattan’s Union Square two days before the Garner grand jury decision but had not participated.