Earlier this week, Reverend Al Sharpton announced that his National Action Network was planning the March for Justice for Victims of Police Brutality, an August 23 protest intended to (among other things) pressure local and federal authorities to bring charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold last month. The event's original plan called for thousands of protesters to walk across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the District Attorney's office on Staten Island, where Garner died, but pulling that off proved more difficult that Sharpton seems to have anticipated.
The Verrazano Bridge is usually only shut down twice a year, for the New York Marathon and the Five Boro Bike Tour. (Because the bridge has no walkways, it would need to be cleared of vehicles in order for people to cross it by foot.) Unsurprisingly, NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton tried to avoid signing off on a march protesting the practices of his own organization, and insisted that the MTA was responsible for deciding whether or not the Verrazano could be closed. "They own the bridge," Bratton said. "The initial authority would have to come from them."
But the MTA didn't want to make the decision, either, and released a statement insisting that the NYPD make the call. CBS 2 reports:
“The MTA closes the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to traffic only twice a year, when New York City requests to use the bridge for special events,” the agency said in a statement. “If New York City requests that the MTA closes the bridge to accommodate this event, the MTA will be cooperative.”
Bratton said he will not comply with the MTA’s request that the city ask it to close the Verrazano.
“There are very significant safety issues involved,” Bratton told Kramer. “It’s an expansion bridge to accommodate pedestrians like we do during the marathon or the bicycle race. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to put down special ramps over those expansions. Who’s going to pay for that? The city should not be obligated to pay for that.”
Meanwhile, officials from Staten Island — which is home to more police officers than any other borough — demanded that Mayor de Blasio cancel the protest entirely. While traffic and the effect on local businesses were cited as reasons to call off the demonstration, recently indicted Representative Michael Grimm hinted at other issues. "Leaders need to lead," Grimm said. "Al Sharpton is not the mayor."
This all came days after de Blasio sat between Sharpton and Bratton at a public meeting where Sharpton delivered what the Times described as "a full-throated critique of the Police Department," while Bratton looked displeased. On Friday night, de Blasio, who postponed his July trip to Italy to deal with the initial fallout from Garner's death, tried to distance himself from the squabbling. "This is not about personalities. This is not about rhetoric," he said. "My mandate is to bring police and community together."
On Saturday, the Times reported that a compromise had been reached: After traversing the Verrazano in buses and cars, protesters will meet Sharpton at the spot where a half-dozen police officers piled onto Garner as he shouted, "I can't breathe!" They'll head to the Staten Island D.A.'s office from there. "Our goal is not to slow folks down," said Sharpton, who said that the fight over the bridge (and attendant traffic concerns) had overshadowed the purpose of the march. "Our goal is to speed justice up." But, with two weeks left until this thing actually happens, don't be surprised if you see it get slowed down again.