Remarks at dedication of Unity Tree in Tompkinsville Park

July 17, 2016

Two years ago, Eric Garner stood right over there and said, “this ends today.” He died soon afterward, a tragic death that we mourned together. We held candles. We marched here and down Bay Street. Speaking as one, we insisted, too, that this ends today. 

 

The headlines tell us that it did not end that day.  

 

Because today, we also mourn Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray.  Sandra Bland. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile 

 

Each one re-opens the painful wounds of Eric Garner’s death.  

 

That day and in the days after, I shed bitter tears. And I felt helpless, because no matter how loud I had shouted, my voice still was not heard. But I know that my voice was echoed by so many others.  

 

We marched, and marched, and marched. And though it may not have been apparent at the time, each march took us a few steps forward. 

 

We’re not where we were two years ago. We are a closer community. We work closer with our local police officers to bridge the divides of the past.  

 

Our police department has put a much greater emphasis on community policing. We have neighborhood coordination officers. And as a result of my conversations with the commissioner, we have changed the training for NYPD officers.  

 

And we have leadership we know and trust. Chief Delatorre, and our local commanding officers, Deputy Inspectors Robert Bocchino and Matt Harringon have made police-community relations not just a buzzword, but a reality. 

 

And I’m working on the City Council side to legislate accountability. Yesterday, the City Council passed three bills, one of which I introduced, that will require the NYPD to publish quarterly reports on incidents of misconduct. Because experience has shown us time and again that transparency, accountability and trust are key to building strong police-community relationships. 

 

We ARE moving forward. 

 

Speaking in Dallas this week, President Obama insisted that we are not as divided as we may seem

 

Sometimes, that sounds naïve. But I know all of us here support justice and accountability. 

 

The talking heads and social media trolls who try to twist our message do not serve the common good. 

 

We must move forward, replace useless rhetoric with action. 

 

I know I speak for all of us when I say we have grown weary of marches and vigils. So I want to do something tonight that will be permanent. I’ve spoken with the Parks Department and asked them if we can permanently dedicate this flowering crape myrtle tree in honor of Eric Garner, to serve as a living symbol of peace, justice and unity—the values to which we aspire.

 

A unity tree. 

 

Every summer, at this time of year, when blossoms come forth on this unity tree, signs of rebirth and new beginnings, I hope that everyone who passes by here will take notice of this living monument. Every year, it will grow taller, fuller and stronger, and remind us of our growing unity, a reminder to continue to move forward, together, year after year. 

 

We are a diverse group here, but we have more in common than we realize. Tonight, we come together to recognize our diversity and celebrate our solidarity. 

 

So as we leave here to go home, let us remember that we ALL want our mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, husbands and wives, to come home every night.  We ALL want to be safe and live in a just society. 

 

And that we depend on leaders of good character to bridge these differences in order to serve the common good.  Martin Luther King once said, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. Who are those leaders. We who have gathered here tonight are those leaders. 

 

Let us take the message of peace, justice and unity back to our homes, to our communities. And let’s focus on what actions we can accomplish together, for the greater good, for future generations.  
 

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