Criminal justice activists in New York were lashing out at Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea for linking weekend attacks on officers in the Bronx to protests the city leaders say help create a hostile, anti-police atmosphere.
Robert Williams, 45, is accused of shooting an officer in a police van late Saturday, then walking into a precinct headquarters Sunday morning and opening fire again. Williams was taken into custody at the scene; one officer was wounded in each incident.
The shootings took place a week after the latest in a series of protests when hundreds of demonstrators overwhelmed a section of Grand Central Terminal during the peak of the evening rush hour. They were protesting transit fares and increased police presence in subways. Some scuffles resulted, and several arrests were made.
“These things are not unrelated,” Shea said Sunday. “We’ve had people marching through the streets of New York City recently. Words matter and affect people’s behavior.”
De Blasio said that people who spew hatred at police are “aiding and abetting this kind of atmosphere.”
“You could protest for whatever you believe in, but you cannot vilely attack those who are here to protect us,” de Blasio said. “It creates this kind of dynamic.”
The Sergeants Benevolent Association, which claims a membership of 13,000 active and retired NYPD sergeants, tweeted that Shea was “100% correct” but blasted de Blasio, who has supported some efforts to curb aggressive policing.
“Mayor de Blasio, the members of the NYPD are declaring war on you!” The SBA tweeted. “We do not respect you, DO NOT visit us in hospitals. You sold the NYPD to the vile creatures, the 1% who hate cops but vote for you. NYPD cops have been assassinated because of you. This isn’t over, Game on!”
Protest supporters also took shots at de Blasio. Robert Gangi, who heads the Police Reform Organizing Project, called the accusations by de Blasio and Shea irresponsible, noting that police had revealed no connection between Williams and the protests.
There is no defense for a “lunatic” who shoots at police officers, Gangi said. But he described the protests against police as legitimate.
“For the many NYers who fear, loathe, & distrust #NYPD, it’s based on all too substantive reasons: daily targeting, harassment, & harm inflicted by cops on poor people of color,” Gangi tweeted. “Until that changes, until pols in power like deB take steps to end it, anger & protests will continue.”
Protest organizers include a group called Decolonize This Place. The group, which advocates for free transit and removal of police from the transit system among other things, posted a statement on Twitter.
“Linking the right to protest and to take direction action with unassociated and random acts of violence is a well-worn and gratuitous tactic long used by authorities to suppress dissident speech,” the statement said. “The mayor, at least, should pretend to know better.”
Shea said Williams had been released from prison in 2017 after serving time for an attempted murder conviction from a 2002 shooting. In that case, the suspect had carjacked a vehicle, crashed it and then engaged police in a shootout before being taken into custody, Shea said.
Williams faces charges of attempted murder, criminal weapon possession and resisting arrest. He was hospitalized Sunday evening for undisclosed reasons, the Bronx prosecutor’s office said.
The officer shot Saturday night, Paul Stroffolino, was released Sunday from Lincoln Hospital to cheers from dozens of well-wishing fellow cops. Lt. Jose Gautreaux drew a similar ovation when he was released Monday.
Contributing: the Associated Press