”The State of Police/Community
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
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
“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
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
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
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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