Journal of the People’s Pastor

“Writing The History I’ve Lived, Living The History I Write!”


Part II – A Weekend of Hope and Promise –
Addressing the Police Academy Graduating of Class of 2007

”The State of Police/Community Relations”

It is my considered opinion that generally speaking, the state of police/community relations is tense, hostile, suspicious, and potentially explosive in some places. All of the above is deep and pervasive, especially as it relations to youth. I base my opinion on seven factors:
The community has not recovered from the shooting of Sean Bell. Since that time, there have been other incidents. (Attorney Michael Warren and his wife were assaulted by police officers on the evening that I addressed the graduating class.)

Reports from the Civilian Complaint Review Board. There were 6,358 complaints about police behavior last year. A 25% jump from 5,089 in 2003. The Budget Office said 2,080 police misconduct lawsuits were filed against the City in Fiscal Year 2004, and increase of 12% from the year before.

Conversations with community, especially the youth who feel that they are targeted by the police.

Children who have seen police in action. There is a little 4 year old whose house was broken into by the police, supposedly in search of dope. They found nothing, the 4 year old was traumaticized, now every time she sees a police office she becomes hysterical. It is a sad commentary that that baby represents two generations who will have hostile feelings towards the police. There was another similar situation. The police said they were after a dope dealer, as they ran through the house. They never found him. The father, who had cardiovascular problem, suffered a serious set back from which he never recovered. A few days later he died. Some months later, as I was standing with his wife and 8 year old daughter, several police officers came into view. The daughter began to tremble. She said to her mother, there are those old police officers. If they come after us, I can take care of one, can you handle two?” We could really have a belly laugh if it were not so serious. These children will carry scares of police behavior for years to come, and will surely influence others.

The treatment of clergy. Rev. Butts who was subjected to unnecessary discourtesies. Another clergy friend, named Rev. James Bullock, was subjected to abusive language and behavior regarding his car being parked a few inches into a no parking area in front of his church.

Community Hearings. Whenever there are community hearings on police behavior, there are always long lines of accusers. They wait patiently to tell their stories.

As it relates to my personal interaction with police, except for a couple of incidents during my acts of civil disobedience, my relationship has been good.


Residency Law. I believe that officers should live in the Cities they police. The implementation of this law could start at a future date, thus not disturbing the addresses of the present officers.
Special prosecutor. I believe that the police and the prosecutors are too closely aligned for impartiality in the pursuit of justice.

Psychological testing. There should be psychological testing before graduation and periodically thereafter. There is mandatory riffle range practice. Why not at the same time have officers be tested regarding their mental and emotional state.
An Independent Civil Complaint Review Board.
More officers of African ancestry.
Increase in pay.
A Minority Pilot Project. In this project, officers of a particular ethnic background would police the community of their own ethnicity. We made this suggestion back in 1977. I might add that, It encountered resistance even from some black police officers. What we were asking for, then and now, is an experiment. It would be interesting to see what would happen. The experiment could last for two, three, five years.
Bridging the cultural divide. I could sum up all I have to say on the subject in just two words – become “Black.” Lest you think I’m going crazy or am asking for the impossible, let me hasten to explain what I mean. I’m not talking about a physical change, but I mean it in an ontological sense – getting into the life, the spirit, the mind of blackness; to see through the eyes of blackness. To know what James Baldwin meant when he said, “To be black in America, and relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all of the time.”

I recall during the turbulent times of the 60’s. When black assertiveness came bursting forth on the American scene, whites would ask, "what can we do?” We always had a laundry list of what to do(s). Then it occurred to some of us, that all whites needed to do were to become black, and then they would know what to do. But in case you missed the point, here are some suggested things you might consider:
“Look homeward angel.” You can start among yourselves. Get to know, truly know, the black cop with whom you are working.
Do a serious study and develop a bibliography of Afro-centric history.
Read black publications. (For an example, my articles in the Daily Challenge.)
Attend black functions, not in your uniform, but as one who seeks to learn and appreciate.
Get to know some black person, other than those with whom you work. Occasionally visit or shop in black communities.
Work with the youth in the community.
Develop a relationship with ex-offenders.

But to repeat, all of the above, including the recommendations, can be sum up in becoming like the people with whom you have to relate. If that were done, then when you see a black person, he or she, would not be an abstraction, or a hated image, but a human being who could be your mother, your father and/or your children. (End of Presentation)

P.S. For the record, let me record my reaction to the New York Post’s distortion or misrepresentation of the intent of my quote regarding “paying peanuts.”

The New York Post gave the quote a lot of ink and in its usual manner twisted and distorted the intent. In response I wrote, “The way the New York Post handled my quote is another example of why it is one of the most dangerous, irresponsible, reckless publication in the world.”

While Commissioner Kelly is striving to defuse tension between the police and the community by implementing new guidelines and inviting critiques of the police to address the graduating class on the state of police and community relations, along comes the New York Post, who takes a quote completely out of context and make it a featured story. Then ask new police officers to react to the out of context quote. The police officers were very angry according to the Post. Thus the Post continues to contribute to already strained relationships between the police and the community. It shows the paper’s true colors, not harmony and understanding, but anything to increase the sale of the paper.

It was obvious to all who were present, I was really challenging the City to pay the police commensurate with what the City says is their worth. (Significantly, no other media focused on the peanut quote. Also, it is worth noting, the more experienced Lynch, President of the PBA, who is usually quick to respond to criticisms of the police, had no comments when approached by the Post.)

Also, in the context, I tried to show how the police are being used by the dominant class. Courts and governments, sometimes influenced by the corporate world, make decisions which infuriate the community. (I cited the tension regarding the street naming for Sonny Carson.) The police are sent to clean up or contain the mess. They are put in dangerous situations, and then are underpaid. In other words, I was saying to the police, they were being exploited. I believe some conscious officers are resentful of this situation. And they direct their anger at the community. The community and police should better understand each other. If they did, perhaps relationships would be improved.
It is important to note, that during the ceremony, Commissioner Kelly announced there would be a pay raise with retroactive pay.

Yes, I am a critic of police behavior, but critic of society at large. In theological terms, I exercise a prophetic role on behalf of the voiceless, the excluded, and the oppressed. And, I will continue to criticize and challenge as I speak and work for a better world.

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