Sharpton protest plan draws fire
Pols say Verrazano-Narrows Bridge shouldn’t be shut down
Plans by the Rev. Al Sharpton to lead a march across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Aug. 23 to protest the chokehold death of Eric Garner and other alleged acts of police brutality has drawn a firestorm of criticism from officials on both sides of the Bay Ridge-Staten Island span.
U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-C-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Staten Island) said closing down the bridge to accommodate the protest marchers is unacceptable.
“There’s a reason the bridge has rarely been closed in its 50-year history, because the major disruption and safety risks are massive. Our small businesses, already coping with the outrageous tolls, would bear an even greater financial burden, families would be severely impacted and the Staten Island Expressway would be a parking lot. FDNY and EMT facilities in southern Brooklyn that serve Staten Island’s north shore neighborhoods would be cut off in the event of an emergency, and that is unacceptable,” Grimm said in a statement.
“The fact remains: the people of New York elected Bill de Blasio, not Al Sharpton, and it’s time for the mayor to stand up, show some true leadership and deny these permits to close the Verrazano bridge,” Grimm stated.
The Staten Island Advance reported that the march is set for 1 p.m. on Aug. 23 and that the protesters will start on the Brooklyn side of the bridge and march across the span to Staten Island. Bay Ridge is the Brooklyn community closest to the bridge.
The protest, being organized by the National Action Network, an organization headed by Rev. Sharpton, is being called the “March for Justice for Victims of Police Brutality,” the Advance reported.
The bridge, which opened in 1964, does not have a pedestrian walkway.
Garner died in police custody two weeks ago after an officer allegedly held him in a chokehold when he was resisting arrest for selling illegal cigarettes. The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide last week.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southwest Brooklyn) also raised strong objections to the idea of closing down the bridge.
“Our nation provides everyone the right to free speech, and the right to protest. That being said, it is unconscionable to shut down the only connection between Brooklyn and Staten Island. By doing so, those who wish to protest violence are leaving both Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, as well as Staten Island, in a position where traffic will be at a standstill, leaving emergency vehicles as well as residents trapped on either side of the bridge. Even a partial closure will have a tremendous negative impact,” Golden said.
The New York Post reported that Staten Island council members Steven Matteo and Vincent Ignizio have mounted a campaign to try and stop the march.
On his Twitter page, Matteo tweeted that Sharpton’s planned protest march would “set a precedent for closing the bridge for marches.”
Matteo and Ignizio are demanding that Mayor Bill de Blasio step in and relocate the march to a different location, the Post reported.
Staten Island Borough President James Oddo also took to twitter to get his viewpoint across. “We should be building bridges in our community, not marching over them,” he tweeted.
But supporters of the protest march charged that the public safety arguments used by the objectors are bogus. “We shut the Verrazano Bridge for the Marathon, don’t we? It’s not as if the bridge has never been shut down before,” one Bay Ridge civic leader told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton surprised everyone on Thursday when he stated that the ultimate decision over whether permission would be granted to hold the march would be made by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which operates the bridge, according to a report on CBS 2 News.
MTA officials, however, said the decision is up to the NYPD.
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