The Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) is organizing a march that will shut down the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge later this month, and the city does not appear to have a plan to deal with the protest.
Sharpton, a longtime New York firebrand who hosts an MSNBC show, says he chose August 23 as the date of a march across the bridge, which provides Staten Island’s most important access to the rest of the city, because that is the anniversary of the death of Yusef Hawkins, a 16-year-old African-American boy who was shot by a group of white youths in Brooklyn in 1989.
Although no details of the march have been released to the public, other than the date and location, the march would disrupt traffic throughout the city. Unlike the Brooklyn Bridge, the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, which connects Staten Island and Brooklyn, has no pedestrian walkway. The bridge, or at least one level, would have to be closed to allow NAN and its supporters to safely cross.
Staten Islanders rely on the Verrazano, which is the only way to enter or exit the borough by car without leaving New York State. Local residents have been calling their representatives to find out if or how much of the Verrazano will be closed, but they’re not getting much information. Government officials who have called the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the NYPD report that they have met with the same response: “No comment.”
A spokeswoman for NAN has previously stated that Sharpton will be having a private meeting at an undisclosed location on Wednesday morning to discuss logistics of the march. A local Staten Island publication said of the possible bridge closures, “At this point, anyone who wants or needs to cross the span [of the Verrazano Bridge] that day is going to have to wait until at least Wednesday to find out more information about how the march will impact their travels.”
So far Mayor Bill de Blasio has not stepped in to control the situation, which is “definitely” happening, according to a NAN spokesperson. The mayor’s press office did not return repeated requests for comment, but the controversy points up the growing influence of Sharpton, whose rabble-rousing has brought diminishing returns in recent decades but who may be getting a new lease on fame in de Blasio’s New York.
During the slowly-becoming-infamous “roundtable” discussion about the NYPD’s use of excessive force, held in New York’s city hall on Thursday, de Blasio, bookended by Sharpton and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, listened as Sharpton, the only civilian on the panel, warned, “If we’re going to just play spin games, I’ll be your worst nightmare.”
There is no indication that NAN has obtained a permit to march across the bridge. A source who requested anonymity tells NRO that NYPD has not been contacted by NAN. The deputy commissioner of public information also says the group has not contacted that office. A permit would be unlikely, as the Verrazano Bridge is shut down only for the emergencies and New York City Marathon.
If NAN has not obtained a permit and does not plan to do so, the march would be an act of civil disobedience. If de Blasio allowed the march to proceed, he would enrage residents of Staten Island and Brooklyn, where traffic would be insufferable throughout the day, and would also appear weak before Sharpton.
Sharpton could also be planning to be arrested, which he has done in the past. That could cause a public-relations headache for the extremely image-savvy police commissioner Bratton and the NYPD. This, in turn, would get de Blasio with civil-rights activists. De Blasio himself was arrested while he was still a long-shot candidate, for protesting the closure of Long Island Community Hospital.
However the city decides to play the march, Sharpton could come out looking like a winner while de Blasio would be weakened. This raises the question of why the city has not put a stop to the march already.
In the aftermath of last week’s roundtable discussion, NYPD officers have been circulating a fake identification card with Sharpton’s picture on it, under the title “police commissioner” and the police seal. The Daily News, which first reported that story, said the cops circulating the fake police ID card on social media are “upset over what they perceive as the civil rights activist’s sway over the mayor in the wake of Eric Garner’s chokehold death.”
With that roundtable, de Blasio attempted to extend an olive branch to Sharpton and his followers. In return, Sharpton seems to be setting the olive branch aflame and leading a protest with it.
Commentary editor and New York Post columnist John Podhoretz called the roundtable “an astonishing visual display of the battle for the future of New York.” So far, it looks like the mayor has already conceded defeat.
— Christine Sisto is an editorial associate at National Review Online.