NEW YORK – Embattled Mayor Bill de Blasio has urged New Yorkers to put aside politics and protests to mourn two murdered police officers as he sought to fend off furious criticism of his conduct.
Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, were shot in the head through the window of their patrol car in broad daylight in Brooklyn on Saturday following weeks of anti-police protests.
Police named the shooter as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, whom officers said had a clear anti-police bias, and who shot himself dead on a subway station platform just minutes after the murders.
The killings have rocked America's largest city and plunged its largest police force into mourning, triggering comparisons with police-community tensions not seen in the city since the 1970s.
"I think it's a time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests and put aside all of those things we'll talk about in due time," de Blasio told a police charity lunch.
"It was an attack on our democracy, it was an attack on our values and attack on every single New Yorker," he said on Monday of the murders.
Police unions lashed out at de Blasio, accusing him of creating a dangerous mood by allowing demonstrators to shut down New York streets in protest at recent police killings of unarmed black men.
Cities across the United States have seen weeks of protests over the killings and decisions not to prosecute white officers responsible for recent deaths in New York and Ferguson, Missouri.
De Blasio, who has biracial children, has fended off mounting criticism for allegedly not being sympathetic enough to the problems police face.
Funerals first, debate later
More than 60,300 people have signed an online petition demanding de Blasio's resignation saying he is "unfit to lead" and "unfit to have a relationship with his police department."
On Monday, as the police unions declined further comment the mayor praised the force unstintingly and called for a temporary lull in protests until after the funerals take place.
"I would ask that any organisations that were planning events or gatherings for politics or protests, that could be for another day," de Blasio said.
"Let's accompany these families on their difficult journey and see them through the funerals. Then debate can begin again."
De Blasio described Brinsley as a "deeply troubled career criminal" and called on people to take stock of what unites them as Americans and as New Yorkers, and focus on the families.
New York Police Department's chief of detectives Robert Boyce said Brinsley tried to commit suicide a year ago and posted 119 images to Instagram that were "self despair" and "anti-government."
He referred to unarmed black teens Michael Brown, shot dead by police in Missouri in August, and Trayvon Martin, killed by a neighborhood watchman in Florida in 2012. Images and footage from his mobile phone show that he watched one protest in New York from the sidelines, Boyce said.
Copycat fears not significant
On the morning of the murders, he went first to the home of his ex-girlfriend and initially pointed a gun at himself. She talked him down but then he shot and wounded her, Boyce said.
Police emphasize that they believe he was working alone, and that investigations into feared copycat attacks have so far unearthed nothing significant.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton admitted Monday that de Blasio had lost the trust of some officers and compared the tensions in New York to 1970, but came swinging out in his defense.
"You point out one mayor that has not been battling the police unions in the last 50 years," he told a news conference.
"The experience of this mayor in terms of some cops not liking him is nothing new."
One of the most vocal critics has been former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican.
Giuliani said de Blasio should not have allowed protesters to shut down major streets in New York and accused him of participating in "hate speech" against police in the last two or three months.
Patrols by a volunteer auxiliary police – a uniformed but unarmed force – have been cancelled until further notice for the first time since the 1970s.
Ramos's funeral will take place on Saturday and arrangements are being made to bring Liu's relatives from China, Bratton said. — AFP