NEW YORK - As the New York Police Department mourns two of its own, Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded for a pause in protests and rancor amid a widening rift with those in a grieving force who accuse him of creating a climate of mistrust that contributed to the executions of two officers.
De Blasio called on Monday for a halt of political statements until after the funerals of the slain officers, an appeal to both sides in a roiling dispute centered on the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.
"We are in a very difficult moment. Our focus has to be on these families," de Blasio said at police headquarters. "I think it's a time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in all due time."
De Blasio's relations with the city's police unions have tumbled to an extraordinary new low following Saturday's shooting, an ambush the gunman claimed was retaliation for the police-involved deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
In a display of defiance, dozens of police officers turned their backs to de Blasio at the hospital where the officers died, and union leaders said the mayor had "blood on his hands" for enabling the protesters who have swept the streets of New York this month since a grand jury declined to indict an officer in Garner's chokehold death.
De Blasio, though he said he did not agree with the union leaders' comments, largely tried to strike a unifying note in his first extensive question-and-answer session since the shooting. He said he was confident the city was "working toward a day where we can achieve greater harmony toward policing and community."
Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were ambushed Saturday afternoon by a man who vowed in an Instagram post to put "wings on pigs." The suspect, Ismaaiyl Brinsley was black; the slain officers were Asian and Hispanic.
De Blasio and NYPD Commissioner William Bratton met with the officers' grieving families Monday. De Blasio said he would attend both funerals.
"There's a lot of pain. It's so hard to make sense of it - how one deeply troubled, violent individual could do this to these good families," a somber de Blasio said. "And I think it's a time for everyone to take stock that there are things that unite us, there are things that we hold dear as New Yorkers, as Americans."