Newspaper article International New York Times

Protest Movement at Crossroads after Killing of Officers ; as New York Mourns, Activists Are Divided over How to Press for Change

Newspaper article International New York Times

Protest Movement at Crossroads after Killing of Officers ; as New York Mourns, Activists Are Divided over How to Press for Change

Article excerpt

As New York City mourns, leaders and protesters previously critical of the department did an about-face and protests seemed out of place.

New York City Council members took to the streets to block traffic in solidarity with the demonstrators demanding changes in policing. The Council speaker opened a meeting of her fellow Council members with a call to utter the protest mantra, "I can't breathe," the final words of a Staten Island man killed by a police chokehold. And on Dec. 19, the mayor sat down with leaders of the demonstrations, heeding their appeal for a face-to-face meeting even as they vowed to continue disrupting the city.

The gestures served as an unabashed embrace by the city's unabashedly liberal elected leaders, a sign that protest organizers, after weeks in the streets, had begun the process of channeling raw anger into real change.

Then, on Dec. 20, in the seconds it took to shoot and kill two officers in Brooklyn, the ground shifted beneath the marching feet of the thousands of people who had made New York the center of protests over the killing of unarmed black men by the police.

Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were gunned down that afternoon as they sat in their patrol car at a busy intersection in Bedford-Stuyvesant. They were killed by a man who hours earlier announced his intentions on Instagram and invoked the names of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man killed by the chokehold in July, and Michael Brown, the man killed by the Ferguson, Mo., police in August. The gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, killed himself minutes later, the police said.

The killing of the officers, coming five days before Christmas, stunned the city into collective mourning. In an instant, criticism of the police seemed out of touch. "Die-ins," which had become a staple of demonstrations in Grand Central Terminal, City Hall and elsewhere, suddenly struck a discordant note. And as the city prepared to bury Officer Ramos on Saturday, Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the protesters to suspend their demonstrations until the officers' funerals were over.

The groups had already been grappling with their future, working on ways to retain the energy and diversity of the younger protesters while exploiting the organizational assets of established civil rights groups. Now, they face an even more pointed test.

"This is par for the course," the Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr. told protesters after a march through Harlem the day after the officers were killed. "You were called for such a time as this. Don't get tired. Don't get weary."

Indeed, though some groups were willing to stand down, others balked. Along with the Harlem protest, led by Justice League NYC, a demonstration was held on Tuesday along Fifth Avenue. Another protest was to take place in Brooklyn on Saturday, the day of the funeral for Officer Ramos. …

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