2013-06-20 / Other News

NYPD Tactics Questioned

By Sam Akhtar

Left to right: Moderator Godfrey Williams, Latrice Monique Walker, Camille Joseph Varlack, Candis Tolliver. 
Photo by Sam Akhtar Left to right: Moderator Godfrey Williams, Latrice Monique Walker, Camille Joseph Varlack, Candis Tolliver. Photo by Sam Akhtar All eyes are on New York Judge Shira Scheindlin's much anticipated ruling on the controversial Stop and Frisk tactic. Everyone from Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, United States Attorney General Eric Holder, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, City Councilman Jumaane Williams - along with a slew of mayoral hopefuls - have weighed in. Closer to home, the discussion continued during a symposium at the Union United Methodist Church on Saturday, June 15th.

The staggering number of stops, especially in communities of color such as Brownsville and East New York, have led many to call for policy reforms. Opponents of the policing practice claim it is an arbitrary, illegal form of racial profiling encroaching on civil liberties and its results are vastly overrated. However, advocates for Stop and Frisk say it is an effective police tool and has helped to make New York a safer place, especially when compared to other cities such as Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia.

The casual brunch included three panelists: Latrice Monique Walker, Camille Joseph Varlack and Candis Tolliver and was moderated by Godfrey Williams.

Williams, President of the Men’s Fellowship of the Union United Methodist Church, asked questions in an informal, open style. Before the event took place, audience members listened to and watched a series of pre-recorded provocative investigative reports by WABC reporter, Jim Hoffer.

The first question dealt with the perceived attitude of New York City Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly. Williams referenced a meeting Kelly had with then-Governor David Paterson, and other dignitaries, when Kelly allegedly stated his aim was to instill the 'fear of God' in men of color in order to combat crime.

Walker, aide to Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, said she wishes she was “a fly on the wall” at that meeting. While she did not confirm the alleged statement, she mentioned seeing a disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos being stopped and frisked. The representative said while living in Brownsville, she has seen men and young boys on the way to a store being subjected to the controversial practice.

Varlack, a former assistant district attorney, addressed the policies that were in place when she was working for Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes, saying, “If an officer can't articulate why they stopped an individual, then the case should be declined. The D.A. doesn't pursue the case because there is insufficient evidence and then the record is sealed.”

Varlack continued, “You want to avoid entering the criminal justice system.”

Tolliver, a senior organizer with the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), reviewed data accumulated since a court case mandated the NYPD release statistics. She went on to stress, “The top down policy is what we want changed.”

Perhaps some of the most poignant comments came later in the discussion when the panelists addressed police-community relations.

Walker said, “Officers don't have a level of comfort in the community which they work.” Varlack observed there seemed to be a policy of rookie police officers barely out of the academy flooding impact zones (areas identified as high crime, thus requiring a more pronounced police presence.) Tolliver surmised that the NYPD doesn't like to take advice from police.

Williams concluded the symposium by saying “The onus is on us. Young people are like sponges. It is on us (the adults). We are the ones they will emulate.” Reverend David Ball stressed the role of the church in communities. “Before they (the youth) come to us, we have to go to them. They need to know you care.”

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