De Blasio held a private meeting with his police commissioner and
a dozen Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergymen. Afterwards they held
a press conference that at times sounded more like a prayer service,
with repeated paeans to the importance of unity.
The event was in some ways a do-over for de Blasio, whose
seven-month-old mayoralty faces its first civil-rights test in the
death of Eric Garner.
A similar roundtable meeting with clergy three weeks ago was
memorable mostly for its images of the mayor and Bill Bratton, the
police commissioner, sitting stone-faced as the Reverend Al Sharpton
chastised them. Sharpton, the civil rights leader, was representing
Garner, a black, 43-year-old father of six, died after police used a
banned choke hold on him while arresting him for peddling loose
cigarettes on Staten Island last month.
His death has become part of a larger national debate about how
American police use force, particularly on citizens who are not
white, which has intensified after a white police officer fatally
shot an unarmed black teenager this month in Ferguson, Missouri.
"We want this to be a transcendent moment for the city," de Blasio
said on Wednesday during the press conference, which was a warmer
affair than the previous session.
"We believe in a god that can bring good out of evil," said Cardinal
Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, who hosted the
meeting at his official residence behind St Patrick's Cathedral.
[to top of second column]
But the clergymen recognized that even the warmest language was not
enough by itself, according to Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid. "We did not
come together for a Kumbaya moment," he said. One priest suggested
the city's churches, mosques and synagogues could have a day where
they invite in police officers so congregations could meet and thank
De Blasio, whose wife, Chirlane McCray, chair of the Mayor's Fund to
Advance New York City, also attended the meeting, was asked how the
message would reach less observant citizens.
"I hope people don't misunderstand what moves the vast majority of
the people of this city," de Blasio said. "They strongly weigh the
messages from their clergy leaders."
The mayor and Sharpton, who is leading a protest march over Garner's
death on Saturday, seemed on warmer terms.
"We don't have to agree on everything, but we don't have to be
disagreeable," Sharpton said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.