Hundreds Come Out in Support of Police Accountability
By A. Surya Peterson
(Photos from this march available on WESPAC’s Facebook Page: Explore WESPAC)
Hundreds of people participated on Thursday, July 14th in a rally and march for justice in downtown White Plains, NY, organized by the White Plains Ministers Fellowship Council. Reverend Lee Trollinger, the President of the White Plains Ministers Fellowship Council, served as the lead organizer and invited clergy and community leaders from all over Westchester County to participate.
The march started at the Calvary Baptist Church at 6:30pm where clergy led the large gathering of people in prayer. Elected officials were among those present including the City of White Plains Mayor Roach, White Plains City Council members Nadine Hunt-Robinson and Milagros Lecuona, NYS Assembly member David Buchwald and NYS Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins. People held signs from the Westchester Coalition for Police Reform that read: “Black Lives Matter”; “#ThisStopsToday”; “Stop Police Impunity”. One large banner read: “White People for Black Lives”.
The first stop along the route was 135 South Lexington Avenue where WESPAC Director Nada Khader was invited to re-tell the story of the police killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr, in November 2011. Rev. Lynn Dunn, Minister for Christian Education and Spiritual Formation at the White Plains Presbyterian Church led the gathering in prayer. Kenny Lee, a retired White Plains Police Officer, played “Taps” in honor of the loving memory of former marine Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.
The marchers then stopped in front of the White Plains Department of Public Safety to hear from the White Plains Police Chief Anne FitzSimmons who recited the Saint Francis of Assisi prayer for peace and was also followed by Kenny Lee’s “Taps”. The group then made its way to Court Street where the White Plains Police Department had cordoned off the section of the road and prepared a show mobile for the clergy speakers.
Reverend Franklyn Richardson of the historic Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon addressed the crowd. Rev. Richardson is the Chairman of the National Action Network, an activist group founded by the Reverend Al Sharpton. He offered some suggestions for addressing the state of racialized policing today.
Imam Ali from Yonkers, a religious cleric of the Islamic tradition, shared his vision of a brighter America where we will all live in unity and respect for one another. He was followed by Reverend Kymberly McNair, the Minister of Community Education and Engagement at the Bedford Presbyterian Church, who shared with us the challenges in confronting institutional racism in our society.
Kenneth Chamberlain, Jr, the son of police slain Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., spoke about the need for police accountability and reform. He is a co-founder of the Westchester Coalition for Police Reform of which members were very visible in the crowd. The demands of this coalition include working to:
- Establish independent oversight structures with subpoena power in order to review the policies and practices of law enforcement agencies, investigate cases of police misconduct, and impose sanctions.
- Implement clear and current protocols within all police departments addressing the use of force continuum, as well as proper handling of emotionally troubled individuals, with an emphasis on deescalating confrontations without resorting to violence.
- Make the rules and regulations of all police agencies available to the public.
- Review and reform the training program of the Westchester Police Academy, with particular focus on proper means to deescalate situations through non-violent methods.
- Centralize in-service police training to encourage sharing of best practices and reduce financial costs.
- Expand the use of Crisis Intervention Teams throughout Westchester County.
- Increase police department efforts to recruit from a diverse officer applicant pool, so that departments more accurately reflect the communities they serve.
- Reassess police department promotion policies in order to advance more African-American and Latino officers into positions of leadership.
- Establish a special prosecutor to investigate and discipline police misconduct.
- Create an independent entity to review the policies and practices of law enforcement agencies throughout the state and propose necessary reforms.
- Require that all police interrogations be recorded.
- Prohibit custodial arrests for violations – arrests where an officer has discretion to issue a summons or arrest an individual.
- Close the loophole that treats possession of small amounts of marijuana differently depending on whether or not it is in public view – a citation versus a misdemeanor.
The next meeting of the Westchester Coalition for Police Reform will take place on Thursday, July 28th at the Thomas H. Slater Center located at 2 Fisher Court in White Plains, NY, at 6:30pm.
The Director of the Thomas H. Slater Center, Heather Miller, spoke about the importance of voting and registering to vote. She explained that the formerly incarcerated are allowed to vote in New York State and that part of making change is participating in the electoral process.
The last presentation was from Jirrell Abraham, a local poet and spoken word artist and member of the H.I.P.H.O.P. group Highly Important People Healing Our Planet. His performance is available on social media.
Several community organizations were present for the march including the Westchester Martin Luther King Institute for Nonviolence (the MLK Institute convenes the Westchester Coalition for Police Reform), the Urban League of Westchester, the Anti Racist Alliance of Westchester, the African American Men Of Westchester, the Theodore Young Community Center, the Loft LGBT Community Center, Mount Vernon Tenants Association, Westchester Disabled on the Move, WESPAC, Hope’s Door and several more. Families came out with children on their strollers and members of the Police Guardians Association were with us on motorcycles. We were just steps from where Westchester County Police accidentally killed Mount Vernon Detective Christopher Ridley in a scuffle outside of 85 Court Street in January of 2008.
The march and gathering represent a significant step towards improving police and community relations with greater accountability and transparency for all.