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Cops vs. Kids

NAYABA ARINDE Amsterdam News Editor | 3/29/2012, 1:01 p.m.
Cops vs. Kids

"There's a war going on between the police and the young people," said Pam Godette, captain of the Linden Housing Tenant Association in East New York. "Right now, we are being attacked every day," she said. "I grew up in East New York. I have three children, including a son who is about to be deployed. But these are our children who are being harassed in the street every day by the police who say, 'We are here to protect and serve.' They are going into businesses for no reason and giving out tickets to young people for spitting on the ground or riding their bike on the sidewalk." Community members, leaders and two of their elected representatives faced off with top police brass from Brooklyn North and the 73rd and 75th precincts on Tuesday night in the auditorium of Thomas Jefferson Technical High School. As spring makes its entrance, Brooklyn community leaders and residents predict that if the NYPD does not rein in what they determine to be wayward and "out of control" behavior by police officers, there could be a standoff. The town hall meeting was organized by A.T. Mitchell, co-founder and CEO of Man Up Inc., and the office of Councilman Charles Barron. From racial profiling to stop and frisk, perceived quota filling and rap sheet generating harassment, East New York and Brownsville residents took issue and demanded answers from Commanding Officer of Patrol Borough Brooklyn North Assistant Chief Gerald Nelson and the new East New York deputy chief, Jeffrey Maddrey. The questions and complaints were wide-ranging, including one that focused on cops randomly stopping young Black males and searching their pockets. "I've got a son with dreads down his back and he used to get stopped. So I understand it," Nelson said. Further complaints included police barging into local businesses on the pretext that an anonymous somebody may have made a complaint; officers coming off roll call and marching down city blocks en masse without so much as a "good day"; and standing on the corner cursing or yapping on cell phones while on duty. The recent police shootings of East New Yorker Duane Browne and Bronx resident Ramarley Graham and the increased chatter about the controversial police practice of stop-and-frisk informed much of the tone of the meeting. But there seemed to be a general despondency about police/community relations. "Stop-and-frisk does not work. Commissioner [Ray] Kelly will say that it does, but we refute that," said Mitchell. Nelson and Maddrey tried to explain that their police work is based in the philosophy of crime prevention and crime-fighting, but resident after resident lined up at the mic to tell a variety of anecdotes that denoted everything from a lack of genuine community policing to a culture of discourtesy and fear that has led to a trigger-happy, us-vs.-them mentality. "I live in Harlem and I see white people riding on the sidewalk all the time or walking their dogs without a leash--no tickets!" said attorney Neville Mitchell, who represented Sean Bell's family and is now representing the family of Graham, the young man shot by cops weeks ago in the Bronx. "They do this sensitivity training," said Mitchell. "We're not asking you to be sensitive, we're asking you to respect us." Nelson acknowledged that officer discretion comes into play when writing tickets, and there was a need for the department to do better. "We don't want a war," Mitchell announced, "but something's got to give." Godette told the crowd: "We have to get involved. The politicians are not going to do it. We have to do it." "Stop-and-frisk does not work! Stop it!" boomed Barron. "Six hundred and eighty stops were made for no reason, with only 12 percent arrested. Go to Howard Beach, where the mafia is supposed to be. But they don't do it in those neighborhoods." "We don't see this mass deployment of police in any other neighborhoods or of any other groups," agreed Mitchell. Mitchell, who runs the violence prevention organization Operation SNUG/Ceasefire East New York, patrols his community daily and nightly with a dedicated staff of violence interrupters; he is not unaware of the problems that afflict many an inner-city neighborhood. Nor does he excuse it, "but these young people need resources. They need jobs." With NYCHA suddenly determining that cookouts must close extra early, Mitchell asked the police brass why this particular issue was being forced. He hoped, he said, as the crowd responded enthusiastically, that there would not be a "standoff at a family BBQ." Mitchell asked, since parks close at dusk as well, what are young people supposed to do? They get ticketed for "loitering" in their own buildings, they can't hang out on the streets and there are no community centers for young adults. "This type of incident sends a message throughout the city that there is a beef with the police officers," said Mitchell. Living within a high-profile Impact Zone, an NYPD distinction for crime-prone areas, means that residents are faced with heavy and aggressive policing that does not take into account that the majority of the neighborhood is law-abiding, he said. The Barron team--Barron, his wife, Assemblywoman Inez Barron, and her chief-of-staff, Viola Plummer--lambasted Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the boss of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, under whom stop-and-frisks have soared. Numbers made public last week showed that 684,330 people were stopped by police in 2011--a 14 percent increase since 2010 and about a 600 percent increase from 10 years ago, when Bloomberg took office. Once again, Barron noted what has been the regrettable tradition: Most of those stopped and searched were Black or Latino--87 percent--with only 12 percent of the stops leading to any type of arrest. Bloomberg and Kelly have repeated that the stops go a long way toward fighting crime, citing reductions in crime rates. "Our police are out of control. There's too much straight-up discourtesy. There has to be a consequence if they disrespect this community," said Barron, adding that the problems that are faced in the inner city--from poverty to joblessness to homelessness--can't have a police resolution if there is not an economic resolution or a job resolution as well. "We want results or else we will be forced to do what we have to do. This is a state of emergency." Paul J. Browne, a spokesman for the NYPD, did not respond to a request for comment regarding the issues raised at the town hall meeting.