Yesterday Rev. Al Sharpton announced his intention to lead a march over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Brooklyn to Staten Island on Saturday, August 23rd to protest the death of Eric Garner and police brutality in general. The demonstration has the potential to draw thousands of participants—if Mayor de Blasio allows it to happen.
Sharpton has not obtained a permit for the march, and today NYPD Commissioner Bratton told WCBS 880, "[Closing the bridge] has not been done, I think as you’re aware, other than for a bicycle race and the marathon each year. There are significant safety issues on the bridge, if I understand it — expansion joint issues — and a very significant cost to prepare a bridge for a march that’s never happened in the past."
But Bratton stopped short of taking a position on shutting it down, saying that decision rests with the MTA or the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. However, a spokesperson for the MTA tells us, "The MTA closes the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to traffic only twice a year, when New York City requests to use the bridge for special events. If New York City requests that the MTA closes the bridge to accommodate this event, the MTA will be cooperative."
Mayor de Blasio has yet to comment on whether the demonstration will be permitted, but a mayoral spokesman tells us, "The city has not received an application for a march." Staten Island politicians have certainly made their opinion on the matter quite clear. “We’re concerned about the negative impact on Staten Island, safety concerns, how much it will cost for the bridge to be shut down,” Republican City Councilmember Steven Matteo told the New York Observer. “And we’re not saying don’t protest, we’re just saying we don’t believe the Verrazano Bridge is a suitable location for any kind of protest." And here's Staten Island Borough President James Oddo:
We should be building bridges in our community, not marching over them.
— Jimmy Oddo (@HeyNowJO) August 6, 2014
Staten Island Councilmember Vincent Ignazio, also a Republican, argued that the march would set a difficult precedent, asking, "Who decides what content-based marches or demonstrations would be allowed to happen on the bridge?” But naturally the most combative statement came from Representative Michael Grimm:
Staten Island already bears the burden as the traffic and pothole capital of the country, not to mention having the most exorbitant toll in the nation. To close our only direct passage to the rest of the City on a summer travel weekend is a recipe for total disaster. 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.
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.
In response to all this, Sharpton told the Observer, "I think it’s kind of absurd for them assume that leaders of civil rights groups, churches and unions would do anything that would in any way endanger the public — we’re marching for the public. I think they would be better asking, what are the plans, rather than assume the plan. How do they even know what the logistics are?”