New York Activists Criticize Police over Handling of Protests - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

New York Activists Criticize Police over Handling of Protests

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NEW YORK (AP) - Some activists and elected officials are criticizing the New York City Police Department's handling of protests over the death of a Baltimore man critically injured in police custody, placing Mayor Bill de Blasio on a familiar political tightrope as he tries to balance the interests of the activists who support him with those of the police officers who work for him.

Officials said that 143 people were arrested Wednesday night during a rally and march over the death of Freddie Gray, whose death after suffering a several spinal injury in the custody of Baltimore police led to riots there earlier this week.

Some of those arrested rallied in front of police headquarters Thursday to claim the NYPD utilized an overly aggressive, and sometimes violent, response to the demonstration.

"We call on Mayor de Blasio to respond and show leadership at this time," said Carmen Perez of the Justice League. "He is our mayor and he needs to reign in the NYPD."

The activists - who were joined by state Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman Michael Blake - said the NYPD's response stood in stark contrast to the way it handled the days of protests last December in the wake of the Eric Garner grand jury decision. Then, marchers were allowed to freely walk on the street and, at times, shut down Manhattan's main thoroughfares.

Police Commissioner William Bratton confirmed Thursday the NYPD was going "to be more assertive" in dealing with efforts to close down tunnels and bridges.

"We will be much faster to make arrests if in fact they attempt to intend move in those directions," Bratton said.

But hours later, de Blasio repeatedly insisted there was not a fundamental change in police treatment of demonstrators.

"The strategic approach is exactly the same," said de Blasio in a testy City Hall press conference in which he frequently admonished reporters for their questions. "We won't tolerate illegality. We won't tolerate disorder."

The moment may have felt familiar - and precarious - for the mayor.

When a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the white police officer who placed Garner, who was black, in a fatal chokehold, de Blasio delivered an emotional speech in which he said he felt the pain of the city's black community, which also makes up the base of his political support. The mayor - a former activist and no stranger to protest - revealed that he had told his own son, who is half-black, to be careful around police.

Those remarks inflamed the city's police unions - which already harbored distrust of de Blasio's call for reform and his close ties to police critic the Rev. Al Sharpton - and their anger exploded weeks later after two police officers were killed by a gunman who cited Garner on social media. They said de Blasio "had blood on his hands" by creating an anti-NYPD atmosphere by allowing the protesters to march freely across the city.

What followed was an open revolt by the police unions, one that only passed after some internal union dissent and a series of financial investments and profuse praise of the police by City Hall.

Perhaps wary of angering the police again, de Blasio chided the protesters - "When the police give you instruction, you follow the instruction" - even as he defended their right to protest. He stressed that while he spoke to Sharpton on Thursday, it was largely about his plan to combat income inequality.

His own frustration, however, was clearly directed at the press.

"If you guys want to sensationalize, if you think that's your contribution to society, feel free," de Blasio said.

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