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Night Out Against Crime brings cops and community together

DAMASO REYES Special to the AmNews | 8/3/2011, 12:20 p.m.

When a community is divided against those who have sworn to protect them, the only winners are those looking to take advantage. That was the message that came from the stage in front of the State Office Building in Harlem as the 28th Precinct, along with police precincts around the city, celebrated the National Night Out Against Crime.

"We are here to extend a hand to the community," said Deputy Inspector Rodney Harrison, commanding officer of the 28th Precinct, to dozens of Harlem residents seated in the late afternoon sun. "There has to be a better form of communication between the community and the department." His sentiment was echoed by many of those in attendance.

"It helps build relationships and cooperation," State Sen. Bill Perkins said about the gathering. "It's a one day event, so it can't overcome the other 364 days of the year, but it is a start. I believe the community wants to work with the police. These flash points that happen from time to time should not define the relationship between the police and the community."

The evening's events featured performances from officers of the 28th Precinct as well as from members of the Harlem area. There was also basketball and, of course, free hotdogs and hamburgers.

"This night brings all of us together in a spirit of harmony and love," said Harlemite Arthen Rena McDowell, who joined the 28th Precinct community council two years ago because, as the owner of Flowers By Najee on 116th Street, she wanted a better sense of what was happening in her neighborhood.

"I think it helps keep things safe. It helps people see the other side of cops, that they are good people too," said Matthew Jackson, a 15-year-old member of the precinct's Explorer program, which gives young people a chance to learn more about law enforcement and volunteer in their community. Jackson was just one of a number of people who received citations on stage for work in the community around the precinct.

Nationally, a large number of all murders happen within communities of color, and fighting this senseless slaughter has to be the first and last priority of law enforcement. Building and, in many cases, rebuilding trust between the police and those whom they serve is a crucial step to ending the homicide epidemic that is leaving tens of thousands of young Black and Latino men either dead or in prison.

"It's important for us to come together in fellowship to make our community stronger," Jake McGhee, the president of the 28th Precinct Community Council, told the Amsterdam News. When asked what Harlem residents can do to make their streets safer, he recommended that they attend the monthly meetings of the community council, which happens the second Wednesday of each month at the precinct house, located at 2271-89 Fredrick Douglass Blvd. For more information, call (212) 678-1611.