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NY Crime
Protesters Soften Tone, Carry On
From the Wall Street Journal of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 22:43:55 EST
The Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr. of First Corinthian Baptist Church and others at a vigil Sunday in Harlem.
The Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr. of First Corinthian Baptist Church and others at a vigil Sunday in Harlem. Peter J. Smith for The Wall Street Journal

The fatal shootings of two New York City police officers have protesters recalibrating their tone as they demonstrate against what they see as violent law-enforcement tactics.

But even as one top city official on Monday called the killings a “spinoff” of the civil unrest and another asked for a suspension of demonstrations, protesters vowed to continue pushing for change.

On Sunday at Grand Central Terminal, the same cadre of protesters that has turned up most nights to demonstrate against what some have described as police brutality struck a notably somber tone: They wore black, held signs that read “peace,” and sang “Silent Night.”

Kim Ortiz, 30 years old, who was there Monday, held up a handwritten cardboard sign reading, “Sorry for your loss, we know how you feel.”

Ms. Ortiz suggested that group members now needed to change some of their chants out of respect for the lost lives.

“The ‘NYPD KKK’ chant, the ‘How do you spell racist’ chant,” she said, referring to the Ku Klux Klan. “Those should go.”

But the Bronx native rejected the notion of a protest moratorium: “Mike Brown didn’t get that luxury. Eric Garner didn’t get that luxury. Peaceful protest can work. This is a peaceful protest.”

In a speech on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio , who has expressed support for the protesters in the past, said now is the time to focus on supporting the officers’ families and the New York Police Department.

“It’s time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in due time,” he said.

For his part, in a television interview Monday morning, New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton linked protesters’ message to the killings, saying “it’s quite apparent, quite obvious, that the targeting of these two police officers was a direct spinoff of this issue of the demonstrators.”

Police officials have said that the gunman believed responsible for Saturday’s shootings, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, wrote on social media about killing police in retaliation for the deaths of unarmed black men by law enforcement.

Demonstrators have been taking to city streets, parks, stores and other public spaces almost nightly since a grand-jury decision earlier this month not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who police said was resisting arrest. The demonstrators, who are diverse in age and race, have blocked traffic, staged “die-ins” and chanted “Black lives matter.”

While protests have been dwindling in size since they began almost a month ago—in part, because of the impending holidays and end-of-semester obligations for the many students involved—a few have become more strident. In one recent incident, a handful of protesters were caught on video assaulting two police officers as they attempted to make an arrest.

But in the wake of Saturday’s killings, when the two officers were gunned down at close range in their squad car in front of a public-housing project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, protesters have expressed outrage and sympathy.

“We express our deepest condolences to the families of the officers who were killed on Saturday…This tragedy is in no way connected to our march, or ongoing protests against police brutality, discrimination, and profiling,” said organizers of the Millions March NYC, one of the larger demonstrations.

Nonetheless, protest leaders said it is important to keep the momentum of their message.

“The reason people are out in the streets is because police kill people,” said Carl Dix, co-founder of Stop Mass Incarceration Network, one of the demonstrating groups. “That hasn’t stopped, so we’re not going to stop.”

Lucy Sun, a 25-year-old organizer of the train-station protests, said, “If you’re shutting out all protests, you’re shutting out the way we move forward.”

Other leaders agreed.

“Indicting a movement whose message is ‘don’t shoot’ is illogical,” said Keegan Stephan, a New York City-based activist who has participated in several recent marches.

In a small march through the outdoor Christmas market in Union Square on Monday afternoon, a group of about 20, mostly teenagers, decried what they see as racist and excessively violent police actions.

One participant, Priya Dieterich, an 18-year-old freshman at Swarthmore College, said she rejected “the causality of peaceful protests leading to dead cops. We’re singing and speaking. It’s a separate issue.”

Still, she urged the group not to block traffic in the streets, telling organizers, “things changed this weekend.”

—Heather Haddon, Adam Janos, Thomas MacMillan and Michael Howard Saul contributed to this article.

Write to Mike Vilensky at mike.vilensky@dowjones.com



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