In the days after Eric Garner died last July while being arrested for selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island, aides to Mayor Bill de Blasio circulated the administration’s public statements to police reform advocates and religious leaders, according to email correspondence obtained by Capital.
“There is a great deal of anger in the community,” wrote Staten Island pastor Demetrius Carolina in a one-line reply to mayoral aide Charles Fall, after receiving a copy of the mayor’s formal response to the incident on July 18.
Fall, the Staten Island representative for the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, did not reply, according to 129 pages of emails provided to Capital following a Freedom of Information Law request.
The administration emails offer a glimpse into the frenzied days following the fatal arrest of Garner, an unarmed black man who died while being placed in a chokehold by a white officer on July 17 of last year.
The emails were sent to some of the same allies and advocates who helped elect the mayor, and reflect the challenge de Blasio faced in balancing his reform-minded base with the demands of overseeing the country’s largest police department.
Just three minutes after City Hall’s press office emailed a statement from de Blasio responding to Garner’s death on July 18, Community Affairs Unit commissioner Marco Carrion forwarded the email to Mandela Jones, who was then working for Berlin Rosen—the consulting firm that managed de Blasio’s 2013 campaign—and was representing Communities United for Police Reform. (Jones, who did not respond to that email, now works exclusively for C.P.R. after the group severed ties with Berlin Rosen.)
Moments later, Avi Fink, deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, forwarded the same statement to two advocates who often criticize the police department, Javier Valdes of Make the Road New York and Joo-Hyun Kang of C.P.R.
“Appreciate the Mayor making a statement on this,” Kang replied. “FYI—we and many of our groups see this case as a near-inescapable by-product of aggressive promotion of zero-tolerance & broken windows policing of minor offenses (the officers reportedly claim they were arresting Garner bc of alleged selling of untaxed cigarettes, although as you know witnesses claim otherwise—and regardless, the brutal escalation was unjustified).”
“Wanted to give you heads up because that will likely be how we will contextualize this when talking about it in public, in addition to calling for zero-tolerance for police brutality & swift DA investigation/convening of grand jury,” she added.
Fink did not reply, and a little more than an hour later, Kang sent him a draft of the statement the group was about to issue publicly, which accused the NYPD of “police brutality” and targeting minorities. Fink thanked her for sending the statement.
Later that evening she sent Fink another emailing asking “why only 2 of the 5 officers involved in the incident resulting in Eric Garner’s death were moved to desk duty?”
“The public message is that there is no investigation into the accountability of the other 3 officers involved and whether their roles and conduct were appropriate/not,” she wrote.
She also expressed concern that the NYPD was “leaking information about Eric Garner’s past criminal justice record,” and warned Fink it “would be incredibly troublesome if there rare further leaks.”
She then expressed disappointment that police commissioner Bill Bratton referenced Garner selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, which led to his arrest.
In a few cases, activists gave the administration a heads-up about statements they were on the verge of issuing.
Valdes of Make the Road New York forwarded his organization’s statement—which referred to “this senseless death” and “police brutality”—to Fink about 20 minutes before releasing it publicly.
None of the emails contained any messages beyond the forwarded statement, in which de Blasio extended his condolences to Garner’s family and promised a “full and thorough investigation of the circumstances of this tragic incident.” He noted the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau was working with the Staten Island district attorney on the probe.
The emails provide no evidence of communication between the administration and the police union leaders whose ongoing feud with the mayor peaked in December, after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the officer in Garner’s death.
De Blasio’s aides told Capital any communication with the police unions would have been handled by people inside the NYPD, not the mayor himself.
Capital’s request, made one week after Garner died, covered all written communication to and from anyone working in the de Blasio administration on city-issued email addresses.
The records provided in response did not include any emails to or from the mayor himself, his deputy mayors or anyone working within the NYPD. (Interagency communication is typically removed from FOIL releases, and the law provides for a series of other exemptions.)
Several aides to de Blasio, including Emma Wolfe, the director of intergovernmental affairs, said he primarily communicated by phone following the incident. One by one, the mayor proceeded through a list of requisite calls, checking in with elected officials, clergy members and community activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, several aides said.
“The first and most important thing was just to get an understanding of how folks were feeling in different communities, and an impulse to make sure things remained peaceful,” Wolfe told Capital. “The most important thing in the first hours was not any traditional political outreach, but an impulse to go to communities in the area.”
The outreach effort received a positive reaction from some allies of the mayor.
City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the public safety committee, simply replied “Thanks!!!” to Wolfe, after receiving the mayor’s remarks.
Larry Spiewak, president of Kwik Ticket and a member of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush, received the statement from Jonathan Viguers of the Community Affairs Unit, and appeared to make a joke about the mayor’s manner of eating pizza, and perhaps his impending trip to Italy, which was delayed by one day following Garner’s death.
“Very well said,” Spiewak wrote to Viguers, “plz tell the Mayor to have a piece of real pizza for me, he deserves a VACA, thanks for thinking of me and have a great weekend, plz say hi to Avi Fink for me, stay well.”
To view the original article, click here.