City, MTA Officials Spar Over Sharpton Verrazano “March for Justice”

The Rev. Al Sharpton's organization is still planning to protest the death last month of a Staten Island man caused by an apparent police chokehold despite the mayor's call for unity and eased tensions.

Kirsten Foy of Sharpton's National Action Network said Friday that the planned Aug. 23 march will tie up traffic on the Verrazano-Narrows bridge even if it's moved to another location.

Foy attended a Brooklyn event where Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke to reporters about Eric Garner's death for the first time since Tuesday.

De Blasio said Sharpton has made it clear he's working with bridge authorities and looking at other options for the march.

Foy said either way protesters will still be crossing the bridge by bus or by foot to get from Brooklyn to Staten Island.

Garner's death has been ruled a homicide. Sharpton, a vocal critic of police tactics in the case, has said his "March for Justice for Victims of Police Brutality" will begin around 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano and continue across the span to Staten Island; Garner, 43, died in Tompkinsville during the July 17 arrest.

Sharpton has yet to receive the permits necessary to hold the march on the Verrazano. He quipped that the last permit he got was his birth certificate and he didn't apply for that one either.

The bridge has no pedestrian walkway and would need to be shut down to accommodate the marchers, which the MTA does only twice a year -- for the marathon and a bicycle race.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said it's the MTA's call.

"They own the bridge," he said.

The MTA put the onus of making the decision back on the city, saying in a statement, "If the city requests that the MTA closes the bridge to accommodate this event, the MTA will be cooperative."

Citing an impact on traffic, businesses and safety, Staten Island officials 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," added Republican Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm.

Police are frustrated by what they say is the appearance that de Blasio is taking sides following Garner's death, and the union has suggested the results of Garner's autopsy were influenced by politics. At a recent forum on police reform, Sharpton was seated next to the mayor and Bratton as an apparent equal. A mock police ID with a picture of Sharpton under the title "Police Commissioner" made the rounds among some city cops soon after, according to multiple reports.

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, he called it 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 march organized by Sharpton. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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