Police-mayor tensions mount over chokehold death

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Police-mayor tensions mount over chokehold death
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 22: Richard Watkins (5) attends a vigil for Eric Garner near where he died after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island last Thursday on July 22, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. The funeral for Garner is planned for Wednesday evening in Brooklyn. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 22: Johanna Fuentes (10) draws a message for Eric Garner near where he died after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island last Thursday on July 22, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. The funeral for Garner is planned for Wednesday evening in Brooklyn. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Mourners pay their respects at the funeral service for Eric Garner held at Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Julia Xanthos-POOL/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 19: People participate in a demonstration against the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island on Thursday on July 19, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a news conference yesterday that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 19: People participate in a prayer during a demonstration against the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island on Thursday on July 19, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a news conference yesterday that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio exits a news conference after addressing the recent death of a man in police custody on July 18, 2014 in New York City. The mayor has promised a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island yesterday. A 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a conveinence store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18: New York Police Commissioner William Bratton prepares to speak to the media at a news conference with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to address the recent death of a man in police custody on July 18, 2014 in New York City. The mayor has promised a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island yesterday. A 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a conveinence store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Reverend Al Sharpton addresses the crowd during the funeral service for Eric Garner held at Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Julia Xanthos-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: A woman rests her head on her arm during the funeral service for Eric Garner held at Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Julia Xanthos-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Esaw Garner receives a hug during a funeral service for her husband Eric Garner held at Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by James Keivom-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: A child holds up a sign outside of the Bethel Baptist Church before the funeral for Eric Garner on July 23, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes on July 17th. Garner's death has set off a wave of protests in the city and is being viewed as a test for de Blasio and his more liberal approach to policing New York's streets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 22: A growing memorial is viewed for Eric Garner near where he died after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island last Thursday on July 22, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. The funeral for Garner is planned for Wednesday evening in Brooklyn. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 19: People participate in a prayer during a demonstration against the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island on Thursday on July 19, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a news conference yesterday that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 19: People participate in a demonstration against the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island on Thursday on July 19, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a news conference yesterday that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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By Tom Hays

NEW YORK (AP) -- Police have become increasingly at odds with Mayor Bill de Blasio over the appearance he is taking sides against them after the chokehold death of a black suspect last month - a conflict that has prompted the city's top law enforcement official to do damage control by calling the mayor "very pro-cop."

What angered many was a recent forum in which the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the biggest critics of the New York Police Department, was seated alongside the mayor, a liberal Democrat, and the police commissioner as he lambasted law enforcement and suggested the mayor's mixed-race son would be a "candidate for a chokehold" if he were an ordinary New Yorker. The image was seized on by critics of the administration and plastered on the cover of the New York Post with the headline "Who's the Boss!"

"It is outrageously insulting to all police officers to say that we go out on our streets to choke all people of color as Al Sharpton stated while seated at the table right next to our mayor at City Hall," said Patrick Lynch, head of the powerful Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. Another union official, Ed Mullins of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, hinted at a work slowdown at the nation's largest police department.

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani even weighed in, saying in a radio interview that de Blasio made a "big mistake .... setting up a press conference like that and putting a police commissioner in that situation. That's extremely damaging to the police commissioner, to keep up the morale of the police."

In recent days, emails have circulated among police officers showing a mock identification card with a picture of Sharpton and the title "Police Commissioner." The activist has shot back by claiming he has the ear of federal officials who have the authority to bring civil rights charges in the death of Eric Garner.

"It is time to have a mature conversation about policing rather than immature name calling and childish attempts to scapegoat," Sharpton said in a statement.

Bratton responded to the uproar by giving a series of interviews Friday defending his department's record on race and de Blasio's attitude toward the department.

"We are not a racist organization," Bratton told The Associated Press. "And I will challenge anybody despite their perceptions of police on that issue. This is a department that goes where the problems are - whether it's crime or disorder."

De Blasio, he added, "is very pro-cop. ... This is not an anti-police mayor."

The rift stems from Eric Garner's arrest on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island. Amateur video appears to show an officer putting the asthmatic, 350-pound father of six in a banned chokehold after he refused to be handcuffed. He yells, "I can't breathe!" as several officers take him down.

A city medical examiner found that the 43-year-old Garner was killed by neck compression from the chokehold along with "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police." Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors.

The finding increased the likelihood that the case will be presented to a grand jury to determine whether any of the arresting officers will face criminal charges. It also has fueled the biggest crisis yet for de Blasio, who took office this year vowing to achieve two goals that, at times, can be contradictory: He said he would drive down crime and repair strained relations between police and the community.

"Every law enforcement official, every officer has to serve the people in this city," the mayor said. "The vast majority of people in the NYPD take that very, very seriously. If some individuals don't, that's a problem for us because we need people to go out there and do our jobs and do them well."

Along with rank-and-file discord, Garner's death has forced Bratton to defend his devotion to the policing tactic called broken windows - the idea that going after smaller crimes such as selling loose cigarettes or public drinking helps stop greater ones such as assault and murder. Some lawmakers and experts say the decades-old theory no longer applies to a city with far less crime, unnecessarily puts nonviolent people at risk and fuels tensions in the city's minority communities.

"Serious crime has decreased dramatically in New York City in the two decades that broken windows policing has been in force, yet the causal connection between that drop and huge numbers of arrests for minor transgressions is unproven to this day," Steve Zeidman, a law professor at City University of New York, wrote in a recent op-ed piece.

Bratton has insisted that the NYPD will stick with the tactic. He also has defended the powwow with Sharpton.

"Whether you like Al Sharpton or not, he clearly is a spokesperson, particularly for African-Americans, and that is reality," Bratton said in the AP interview.

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