NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mayor Bill de Blasio’s attempts to soothe a city dismayed by the slaying of two officers were further rebuffed on Tuesday as protesters defied his call to suspend what have become regular demonstrations over excessive police force.
De Blasio led a moment of silence at City Hall in the afternoon three days after the attack on the officers before asking his staff to hug those nearby “as a symbol of our belief that we will move forward together.”
Hours later, about 200 protesters began marching through the drizzle and traffic in the center of Manhattan, enraged by the mayor’s demand that they suspend their rallies until after the funerals of police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to New York City to attend the funeral service for Ramos on Saturday, a White House spokesman said.
The shooting of the officers in their patrol car shocked a city that has seen largely peaceful demonstrations after decisions by grand juries in New York and Missouri not to indict white police officers in the killings of unarmed black men.
The killings have also intensified friction between City Hall, the police department and reformers who voted for de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, last year.
Protests against the use of excessive force by police have been held across the United States, reigniting a bitter debate about how American police forces treat non-white citizens that has drawn in President Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder.
Since Saturday, de Blasio’s attempts at unity in New York have been rebuffed by both sides, police unions and protesters.
After saying de Blasio, who has reservedly sympathized with the protesters, had “blood on his hands” for the officers’ death, police unions disputed on Tuesday the claims by City Hall that they had agreed to a request to suspend their rhetoric.
“I never had a conversation about silence,” Ed Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said in a telephone interview.
Answer Coalition, organizers of the march on 5th Avenue in midtown Manhattan, called the mayor’s demand to suspend protests an attempt to “chill” their speech.
“We’re showing that we are not going to allow other people control the narrative,” Eugene Puryear, a protest organizer, shouted through a megaphone. Protesters marched behind a large banner saying “Stop Racist Police Terror” as they passed by Christmas shoppers and the luxurious shop window displays.
Saturday’s attack has left police forces around the United States on edge. Police in Chicopee, Massachusetts, on Tuesday said they would seek to bring criminal charges against a man for posting the words “put wings on pigs” on his Facebook page, a phrase similar to the one used by the man who shot the officers in New York City.
The gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who was black, in a social media posting linked his plans to the July chokehold death of Eric Garner, 43, in New York’s Staten Island borough and the August shooting of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri.
Brinsley, who was described by de Blasio as “emotionally troubled” and a “career criminal”, shot and killed himself after slaying the officers.
De Blasio, who campaigned on a promise to repair relations between police and minority communities, has been criticized by the city’s largest police union, The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, for being insufficiently supportive of police.
The mayor angrily rebutted those claims on Monday, saying there was no conflict between opposing police violence and supporting police officers.
Emerald Garner, a daughter of Eric Garner, left a wreath at an impromptu road-side memorial swelling with flowers and candles that marks the spot where Ramos and Liu were killed.
“My dad wasn’t a violent man, so to use his name to do something that’s violent is definitely not something that my father would want,” she told reporters.
In Milwaukee, several dozen protesters on Tuesday evening briefly clogged an entrance into a sports arena hosting a National Basketball Association game, demanding justice for a black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer in a downtown park on April 30. There were no arrests during the protest.
The protest came a day after Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm announced that he would not press charges against the former officer Christopher Manney because he acted in self-defense when he shot Dontre Hamilton 14 times.
Additional reporting by Sebastien Malo, Julia Edwards in Washington, D.C., and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing and editing by Scott Malone, Toni Reinhold, Grant McCool, and Eric M. Johnson