Mayor de Blasio called Monday for protests and political debate to pause until after funerals are held for two officers shot and killed inside their patrol car in Brooklyn this weekend by a man vowing retaliation for the NYPD chokehold death of Eric Garner and the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The mayor's comments, laden with sorrow for the victims' families and the at times visceral divisiveness that has gripped the city in recent weeks, came hours after Police Commissioner Bill Bratton acknowledged rising tensions between some members of the NYPD and the administration and urged caution against playing up concerns over antipathy in this challenging political climate.
"It's important that regardless of people's viewpoints that everyone step back," de Blasio said at a Police Athletic League event Monday, his first of two public appearances to discuss the Brooklyn shootings that day. "It's a time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in all due time."
He said the entire city is feeling the deaths of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were shot in the head Saturday in Bedford-Stuyvesant, deeply, but "no one is feeling it more than two families."
"These families are now our families and we will stand by them; they're suffering an unspeakable pain right now," de Blasio said after visiting the families' homes with Bratton.
Ramos was a married father who recently celebrated his 40th birthday and had two teenagers; his funeral is scheduled for Saturday. Liu was married two months ago and he and his wife had talked about building a family; he was his parents' only son. Liu's funeral date is not known.
The man who shot the officers, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, wrote in an Instagram post that he was "putting wings on pigs" and referenced the police-involved deaths of the 43-year-old Garner on Staten Island and Brown in Missouri. Police believe Brinsley, who fatally shot himself in a subway station after killing the officers, was motivated by anger at police. Video captures him watching a protest in Union Square earlier this month, though authorities say he was not participating in it.
Authorities describe Brinsley as an extremely disturbed individual whose posts on social media reflect both self-despair and anti-government sentiment. Brinsley's family told authorities he tried to commit suicide a year ago. He showed up to his ex-girlfriend's home in Baltimore Saturday before heading to Brooklyn and shot her after she talked him out of shooting himself, officials said.
Authorities believe Brinsley acted alone, but de Blasio urged the public Monday to notify police of any threatening messages against the NYPD on social media or elsewhere.
Investigators also continue to look into Brinsley's whereabouts once he arrived in Brooklyn. Surveillance video captures him walking outside Atlantic Center Terminal with a white plastic bag containing what authorities believe to be the gun he used to kill the two officers, and officials ask anyone who may have seen him to contact police. Authorities say there are about two and a half hours between when that video was captured and when he shot the officers, and in an effort to provide the utmost closure possible to the victims' families, they want to close the gap.
Several officials, including the head of the NYPD's biggest union, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, for whom Bratton served as police chief in the 1990s and former Gov. George Pataki have criticized the mayor in the wake of the officers' deaths and ongoing protests against grand jury decisions not to indict police in the Garner and Brown cases. Critics argue de Blasio has not done enough to support police, and some NYPD officers turned their backs to him when he went to the hospital where the officers were taken the night of the shooting.
On Monday, de Blasio said there's so much pain it's difficult to make sense of the situation, but said, "an attack on them is an attack on all of us."
Earlier, Bratton also called for a united front, telling NBC's Matt Lauer on "Today" that the officers' deaths "should be drawing us together, not tearing us apart."
He said the city has allowed protests and demonstrations in the streets in support of freedom of expression, and the protests have kept down violence and vandalism.
"What it has not done, however, is ease the anger toward police," Bratton said. "And I think the anger towards police is terribly misplaced."
He acknowledged the current climate marks one of the greatest rifts he has seen in the city since becoming a police officer in the 1970s, but said within that exist opportunities for progress.
He also discounted the assertions of some critics, including Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, who said Saturday the mayor has "blood" on his hands, that de Blasio's comments and policies regarding the 35,000-member NYPD contributed to the violence against police this weekend or at recent protest demonstrations.
"Do some officers not like this mayor? Guaranteed," Bratton said at a news briefing Monday. "Name one mayor that has not battled with police unions in the last 50 years. This is New York City -- we voice our concerns and opinions."
Bratton said Lynch's comments Saturday were "an orchestrated event" that should not have been held outside the hospital. But, he said, "it's reflective of the deep frustration many of the officers and particularly the union leadership has and it's something we have to deal with."
In an exclusive interview with NBC 4 New York Monday, Lynch said "absolutely not" when asked if his comments have gone too far.
"When I speak I'm speaking on behalf of New York City police officers," Lynch said, "and this is how they feel."
Unrest has beset the city since the grand jury's decision Dec. 3 not to indict the NYPD officer in the chokehold death of Garner. Hundreds of people have been arrested in the mostly peaceful protests that followed the decision. Two officers were assaulted during a Dec. 13 on the Brooklyn Bridge, and nearly half a dozen people have been arrested in connection with that attack on the NYPD.
At his second news briefing of the day Monday, de Blasio said he has expressed support for the NYPD and will continue to do so while supporting the right of frustrated New Yorkers -- the vast majority of them peaceful, he said -- to free speech.
"People want a more fair society and they have the right to that," de Blasio said. "The most important reflection I can give you right now is in this tragedy we find a way to move forward."
The executions in Brooklyn -- and the shooter's apparent motive of police outrage -- have stoked fears that any gains made in the protests would be lost.
"We've been denouncing violence in our community," no matter who the target is, New York community activist Tony Herbert said. He said he worries that the shooting will be used to discredit the larger cause.
"It sullies the opportunity for us to make inroads to build the relationships we need to build to get the trust back," he said. "This hurts."