Tonight, the New York Urban League and New York Urban League Young Professionals held a Millennial Town Hall to Heal Police-Community Relations. The event opened with New York Urban League CEO Arva Rice asking the crowd to think about what would they have done in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement, and to recognize that engaging with the recent cases of police violence in the United States is important to continuing the work of that movement and defining what ‘Civil Rights 2.0’ looks like.
Sara Dennis, the President of the National Council of Negro Women, Manhattan Section, emphasized that advocating for human and civil rights was as urgent now as ever, and that “if the time isn’t right, we have to right the times.”
The main event was a panel discussion on law and policy moderated by NYULYP member Stanley Fritz, of Let Your Voice Be Heard Radio. Ama Dwimoh, Esq., Special Counsel and Chief Compliance EEO Officer for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams emphasized that the Brooklyn Borough President has called for body cameras and a special prosecutor, but that work is only the beginning. For the community to make its voice heard and hold police accountable, more community stakeholders have to serve on juries and grand juries to exercise civic power. Engagement is necessary to bring about change and put an end to a situation where policing in communities of color features much more excessive force than you would ever see on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Steven Griffith, Deputy Inspector General for the 26th Precinct in Upper Manhattan, agreed that body cameras were a first step but not a cure-all. He said that in a city the size of New York with millions of citizens and thousands of officers of varying experience that in high adrenaline situations, cameras alone won’t make up for poor decision making. He pushes rookie officers to understand that there is a big difference between stopping someone for a conversation and frisking someone. He emphasized that most police officers and community members shared a common goal of safe neighborhoods, and that the problem is less often with police being being and more often with the way they conduct themselves. When he receives complaints about police misconduct, it usually has to do with frisking or detaining innocent people when a conversation would have sufficed. He tries to instill in his officers that for police officers and community to actually work together towards safe neighborhoods, police officers have to let community members know why they’re doing what they’re doing and loop them into the situation, and that there’s no victory in making a community safer if you rob people of their dignity. He also made the point that for community members to effectively hold police accountable, they need to attend precinct council meetings so that senior officers like himself can hear about and address community concerns.
Amber Green, Director of Policy for NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, agreed about the need for police body cameras, and went further to focus on the need to effectively think through the policy and costs surrounding the cameras. She spoke about the potential costs and savings on police brutality cases if the cameras were effective and the need to be deliberate about setting a data security and retention policy for the huge amount of data generated by those cameras. She also detailed the work of the Public Advocate’s office to secure the public release of the grand jury testimony in the Eric Garner case, and was optimistic about the progress made getting the Staten Island District Attorney’s office to release those documents.
NYULYP member Gloria Jassie gave a spoken word performance, “Black and Blue,” reflecting on the frustration many in our communities feel at the continuing violence and challenges faced by communities of color and to reconcile that with the idea that Black people in particular have made progress being accepted as equal American citizens.
NYULYP Civics and Economics Chair Mary Goodwin moderated a second panel on mental health, self care, and how to manage our own and our families’ interactions with police. Karinn Glover, M.D., Psychiatrist and Vice President of the Black Psychiatrists of Greater New York, emphasized how White communities often get their mental health care from mental health professionals, while Black communities often get it via the criminal justice system. She spoke abut the need to monitor and care for ourselves and our families as a way to avoid preventable interactions with police officers that go wrong due to poor training or behaviors driven by poor mental health.
Carlmais Johnson, Manager of Community Outreach and Partner Engagement for the Civilian Compliant Review Board explained the role in the board as an external observer and auditor of police authority working directly with the mayor’s office. She reinforced that citizens need to know their rights and understand that officers are required to act with CPR– Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect. She encouraged everyone to know that officers cannot use discriminatory or discourteous language, behave vulgarly or unprofessionally, or treat citizens without respect, and to contact her office if anyone was the victim of or witness to those kinds of behaviors from officers. She challenged everyone in attendance that if they complained about the police without filing complaints about the police has a problem, and that only civic engagement will allow communities to hold the police accountable.
The event was closed out by Joshua Sa-Ra, performing his spoken word piece “Speechless,” encouraging everyone in attendance to reflect on how we live out the promises made to us in the civil rights speeches we listen to.