NEW YORK (PIX11) – They came together to explore ways that New York can heal following the Eric Garner police custody death and other cases of alleged police brutality, but events in Ferguson, Missouri were very much on the minds of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and about a dozen members of the clergy when they met for a round-table discussion Wednesday.
“Hope springs eternal,” said Bratton as he walked into the meeting at the residence of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The discussion among leaders of Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Catholic communities in New York was intentionally convened outside of any specific house of worship.
Whether or not hope sprung eternal from the two hour meeting is debatable. A few other points are beyond dispute, however, including that the religious leaders were all male.
De Blasio hand-selected the men of faith who met with him, as well as first lady Chirlane McCray, Bratton and NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks.
The other indisputable fact is that the Wednesday morning meeting occurred as the city prepares for a protest march Saturday to the office of the Staten Island district attorney.
The demonstration is a response to the death of Garner, after he was taken down by police on July 17.
Still, people who attended Wednesday’s meeting agreed with a comment from the mayor afterward, that Ferguson, Missouri was “an implicit part of the discussion.”
“We all look at the events in Ferguson with a sense of pain,” the mayor said at a news conference after the meeting ended, but added, in contrast, “there was a deep understanding there is a New York way of doing things.”
There was a clear sense in the meeting, according to attendees, that New York is not Ferguson, Missouri, and will not see that sort of violence.
That doesn’t mean, however, that sparks weren’t flying in the gathering at Dolan’s residence. Rev. Sharpton said after the meeting that the conversation was “very frank” — possibly heated at times.
A sense of the contention seemed evident in comments made afterward by Commissioner Bratton and Rev. Sharpton.
“The role of police is not just to serve, but to also respect,” said the leader of the country’s largest police department. But, he added, “to protect and respect is not just the obligation of the police, but the community. The idea is that we have to have a mutual respect for the law.”
For his part, Rev. Sharpton stressed that while he may have been critical in the meeting of the use of force by police, “All police are not bad. Most police are not bad,” he said afterward at the news conference.
Sharpton also emphasized that Saturday’s Staten Island protest march would be free of the kinds of clashes between demonstrators and police seen in protests in Missouri in the last week and a half.
“We’ve never tolerated and would not tolerate violence,” Sharpton said, “because you cannot fight reckless violence or alleged reckless violence by becoming that.”
Sharpton has lived up to that statement for many years in New York, and he repeated that this weekend’s protest will be no different. However, he was present in Ferguson, where violent clashes have repeated night after night.
“The protests in Ferguson are not violent,” Sharpton told PIX11 News, referring to daytime demonstrations he has led with the family of unarmed teen Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson during an encounter on Aug. 9.
The violence, Sharpton said, “is those [protests] at night. They’re very separate. And I think that’s why they called on us. There is no leadership like that in Ferguson, and that’s what we’re trying to build.”
He also said that Saturday’s Staten Island protest will feel far different than demonstrations he led in the city years ago. In fact, during protests over the shooting death of Yusef Hawkins almost 25 years to this day, Sharpton was stabbed.
Now, the civil rights leader pointed out, “We’re in the residence of Cardinal Dolan” meeting face to face with the mayor and police commissioner.
Both of those men pointed out that leaders of Saturday’s march have met already with police officials who will be assigned to the event.
Bratton said that it will be virtually “self-policed.”
Sharpton also pointed out that it’s worth acknowledging how far the nation has come despite the violence in Ferguson. He emphasized how, in Missouri on Wednesday, a black attorney general who works for a black president was addressing the situation from the same Missouri courthouse where Dred Scott, a black slave, was denied his freedom in a landmark court case.
The events of the last 11 days in Missouri, while on the minds of everyone at the meeting of clergymen, was most strongly considered by the gathering’s host, Dolan.
“I’m from St. Louis,” he reminded reporters, and added that Wednesday’s discussion of the relationship between New York’s law enforcement officers and the communities they serve could be exemplary. “We’d like to be a light to the world here,” Dolan said.