For the last several weeks, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea has been engaging in a series of dialogues with concerned community members regarding their opinions on the state of the city’s police force. The latest occurred on Feb. 11 at Pace University, and broadcast on Facebook Live, themed “Trust and cycles of entanglement.”
Since the Black Lives Matter movement helped shine a spotlight on the racial inequality some face when dealing with police officers all over the country, the relationship between law enforcement and members of the public has been a hot button topic of protests, town hall meetings, and virtual seminars.
During Thursday’s event, Shea joined Christian Matthew, the head youth leader from Gun-style Life Up, a program that aims to keep youth off the streets; Chief of Community Affairs Jeffrey B. Maddrey; Jeremiah, a founder of Crew Count NYC, a nonprofit focused on social justice; and Kenny Carter founder of Fathers Alive in the Hood (FAITH), a nonprofit organization that strives to uplift the entire New York community.
Over the course of this unscripted Thursday evening conservation, Shea served primarily as both a moderator and a sympathetic ear as a variety of topics were raised, everything from gun violence and mental health to the way in which officers conduct themselves within Black and Brown neighborhoods, especially during times of grief and strife.
Candlelight vigils soon became a strong talking point. The public displays of sorrow after a person’s death are a method for the district to mourn said passing — yet some feel a large police presence at these gatherings disrupts this process.
“When we talk about trauma and healing and things like that, how many vigils do we go through of people lighting candles and there are 100 police there… 200 police there. How can one mourn in peace if the police are there dictating how you are supposed to mourn or what’s okay when you are mourning or what’s not okay?” Jeremiah said.
Jeremiah also added his feelings regarding the lack of relationship between officers and these communities, which in his mind creates an even larger disconnect.
Maddrey weighed in on this and while agreeing that there is room for improvements in their service, he also attempted to affirm that officer presence at vigils is intended to protect citizens in mourning, not disrupt them.
“We had a vigil two years ago out in one of the communities I was in charge of in Brooklyn North and it was a very tense situation. Someone had got killed out there, someone who was highly respected, but we were also very fearful that retaliation was going to come. So, you have to think about it from my perspective,” Maddrey said. “We were worried about a vigil where we think there is going to be retaliation, but I am also aware that this is a custom in a community, a black community where you come out and mourn your brother, your sister and you light candles. It was a difficult time being out there trying to address that vigil. I took heat from the community, I took heat from my bosses, but I did the best I could.”
Pleased with this answer, Commissioner Shea joked: “I knew there was a reason why I promoted him.”
Shea also added that he is aware there are mixed feelings when multiple parties are involved but he believes it is for the greater good.
“He makes sense, but he talked about something, to me that is very basic. In every situation there are always two sides and I think that sometimes what is happening right now is sometimes when you are in the middle of a fight or a lot of noise is going on and you don’t step back, you only see what’s right in front of you,” the commissioner said. “Yeah, the police are going to that vigil and they are making us do whatever, but we have had vigils in Queens where people were shot.”
Not everybody agreed.
This created a platform from which Chief Maddrey and Jeremiah went back and forth throughout the hour-long conversion, at times becoming rather heated, neither one seeming able to find equal footing on subjects constantly returning to police presence.
While Jeremiah argued that officers only intensify the issue by merely patrolling the areas, Maddrey affirmed that meeting the public and forming bonds are the way forward.
Shea took note of both points stating, “Everything needs to be balanced.”