A march to protest the death of a Staten Island man caused by an apparent police chokehold will cross the Verrazano-Narrows bridge in cars and buses, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Saturday, following days of back-and-forth over how city officials would accommodate the event.
Sharpton had originally said marchers would cross the bridge to Staten Island by foot. That plan would have required that the span, which has no pedestrian walkway, be closed to vehicles.
"We will not be on foot. We will be in a bus or car," Sharpton said Saturday at an event at his organization's Harlem headquarters.
Currently, the MTA shuts the bridge down to traffic twice a year - for the marathon and a bicycle race. At first, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the decision on the march was up to the MTA, but the agency put the onus back on the city, saying in a statement it would close the bridge if the city requested that it do so. As of Friday, Sharpton had yet to receive the permits necessary to hold the march on the bridge.
On Saturday, Sharpton said the change in plans for the Aug. 23 march was not his organization's focus.
"The bridge did not choke Eric Garner," he said. "The issue is the homicide."
Garner's death in Tompkinsville during his arrest on July 17 has been ruled a homicide. Sharpton, a vocal critic of police tactics in the case, has called for charges against the officer who was caught on video apparently placing the 43-year-old in a chokehold, a tactic forbidden by NYPD policy.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said a grand jury will likely decide whether to charge the officer. He has promised that each NYPD officer will be retrained.
Citing an impact on traffic, businesses and safety, some Staten Island officials have demanded that City Hall take a stand and shut down Sharpton's event.
"Leaders need to lead. Our mayor was elected by the people, not Al Sharpton. Al Sharpton is not the mayor," said Republican Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm.
The disagreement has unfolded amid frustration from police who say Mayor de Blasio appears to be taking the side of community advocates following Garner's death. The police union has suggested the results of Garner's autopsy were influenced by politics.
De Blasio said Friday that Garner's death "grabbed at our hearts" but the resulting tensions should now be in the city's past. Speaking after a Brooklyn public housing event, the mayor called the death a "turning point moment" and said it has to lead to something better.
Earlier, he announced that Cardinal Timothy Dolan will host a meeting later this month to guide the healing process after Garner's death. Sharpton is expected to attend. De Blasio has said he won't attend the Aug. 23 march.
In addition to running the National Action Network, Al Sharpton is a talk show host on MSNBC, which is owned by WNBC's parent company, NBCUniversal.