Nelson Mandela’s unifying spirit reached all the way to New York City last Saturday at the National Action Network (NAN), where the Rev. Al Sharpton shared the rostrum with Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and William Bratton, the newly appointed police commissioner.
“We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable,” Sharpton said, clearly referring to the sometimes contentious relationship he had with Bratton during his command of the NYPD under Mayor Rudy Giuliani from 1994 to 1996.
“It’s not about Sharpton,” the minister continued. “It’s not about de Blasio … it’s about one city with equal rights under the law.”
After his opening remarks about the passing of Mandela, Bratton added to de Blasio’s and Sharpton’s comments about the necessity of blending the overall safety concerns of the citizenry with a respect for their civil, human and constitutional rights. “You can’t break the law to enforce the law,” he said, choosing not to mention stop-and-frisk. “I know what cops can do when they get it right, and we will get it right,” Bratton promised the packed room.
But the moment was about Mandela’s transition and his determination to bring peace and harmony to the world.
“It’s not enough to memorialize Mandela,” Sharpton charged, “we must emulate him.” Even so, he found a way to tie Mandela’s legacy to the current turmoil around the issue of stop-and-frisk. “You can’t laud Mandela and profile his grandchildren.”
Of Mandela, de Blasio said, “Our lives have been shaped by his words and deeds. … It’s up to us to walk in his footsteps and to make his dreams a reality.”
“Long live Nelson Mandela,” Bratton said at the end of his remarks. “He was about freedom, justice and respect.”
Former Mayor David Dinkins recalled Mandela’s appearance in New York City in 1990, particularly his visits to Harlem, Yankee Stadium and Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn.
“Nelson Mandela came to New York City because of Bill Lynch,” Dinkins explained, recalling the man who led his mayoral campaign and whose memorial service he was attending when he heard that Mandela had joined the ages. “Just as I was prepared to speak at Bill’s memorial services at Local 1199, I got word that Mandela had passed. He was a great leader with the courage to help so many people. He embraced all of us.”
Union leader George Gresham, Rep. Charles Rangel and Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Melissa Mark-Viverito were among the other notables at the tribute, each of them noting, either from the stage or to reporters in the street, the significance of Mandela’s life on the world and the importance of keeping his legacy alive for future generations.
Memorial services for Mandela were scheduled at a number of churches around the city, making it easy for people to attend one or the other to pay their respects to a leader who deeply respected them.