Harlem leaders hope for end to ‘fear of black men’ among cops after Daunte Wright killing

Image from iOS (81)
Reverend Dr. Thomas Johnson (far left) with state Senator Brian Benjamin at the Canaan Baptist Church on 116th Street discussing the police killing of Daunte Wright on April 14.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Incensed religious leaders and elected officials in Harlem said they would seek to open lines of communication with NYPD precincts in Harlem to discuss not only the killing of Daunte Wright in Minnesota, but how cops could be treating the black community with more humanity.

Reverend Dr. Thomas Johnson held a press conference in front of the Canaan Baptist Church on 116th Street and Lenox Avenue on Wednesday night vowing that he and other pastors in the community will lead talks with local law enforcement to help end killings of black men and women when stopped by cops.

“Why is this still happening?” Johnson said. “That will be a question that we will put very forcefully to police officers, in their view what is being done? And then the second question, will be to make it clear that what we desire is not a tit for tat with law enforcement, but rather to build the mechanism together where we can eliminate, if nothing else, the fear of black men.”

Pastor Keith Roberson, who leads the congregation of the Southern Baptist Church on West 108th Street, wants NYPD to understand black communities better through communication rather than seeking obedience.

“I heard the other day that police officers while they’re in the academy and beyond get 120 hours of compliance training. In other words, trying to make sure that you comply with their wishes, but only 10 hours of communication training,” Roberson said. “Those who are not a part of our culture need to understand where we come from that certain words, certain dialect, certain movements in our culture, in our communities, mean one thing. And if you’re outside of that culture that community, it can mean something else and can be misconstrued. So therefore we’re looking to make sure that there’s an understanding, a proper understanding of what goes on in our community, and then preferably lower the fear of the Black man.”

State Senator Brian Benjamin looked to the death of George Floyd at the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in which another cop stood idly by as Floyd’s breath and life were choked out of him.

“We have a number of laws in New York State where if you are an accomplice to a murder or robbery, rape, anything, if you’re an accomplice, you do time too,” Benjamin said. “I’m going to be looking at a number of the laws, and I want to talk about think about accomplices, I want to think about this whole issue, but when the cops who watched Derek Chauvin keep his knee on the neck… They need to be accountable in addition to the killers.”

William Allen, a district leader in Harlem, expressed that elected officials in New York City government need to be held accountable in regard to the city’s purview over NYPD and that precinct community councils and community affairs for NYPD needs funding to bridge the gap between police and the policed.

“We have to hold our own elected officials accountable for the solution, right. So here in the city of New York. The police department is under the observation, and direction of the New York City Council. I always hear about the NYPD get this wrong and this one did this but no one holds the legislative body of the city accountable in this city,” Allen said. “How do we make the City Council more interactive and addressing this issue?”

Speakers at the event were awestruck that Wright was killed by an officer with 26 years on the force who reached for her sidearm instead of a taser and that his death took place ten miles from where George Floyd died as well as during court proceedings regarding the matter that took place in May of 2020.

More from around NYC