“I was stopped, harassed, pulled over, followed by the police six times in my first year in this town,” says Hermian Charles, who heads the Community Partnerships team for the CRE. “I never reported it back then. Can you imagine someone who is less vocal, less educated, less independent than I am – would they even be able to stand up for themselves?”
Charles posed this question at a working session of the New Castle’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative committee (PRRCC). Her comment followed a discussion of how few bias complaints the police department had received. And it highlighted the critical importance of having BIPOC community members and CRE’s perspective on the committee.
Last spring Gov. Andrew Cuomo required all municipalities with a police agency to conduct a comprehensive review of current police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures and practices, and to create a plan to adopt and implement recommendations for reform and reinvention. New Castle created its committee in October and has so far held four meetings. Town Supervisor Ivy Pool noted that “for the Town of New Castle, this is more of a continuation of a process that we launched earlier this year in response to racist incidents that happened nation-wide, but more specifically here in our community.”
Both Charles and Johanna Nayyar represent CRE on the police reform committee, joining other stakeholders in the community, including of course, the Police Chief Jim Carroll and members of his force.
“Many communities all across the country are dealing with issues concerning their police departments,” Cuomo said. “The millions of people who gathered in protest, even in the midst of a public health crisis, made that clear.” He called for a building of mutual trust between police and the communities they serve.
As the committee grapples with different issues around law enforcement, it is clear that many in the BIPOC community experience the police very differently than most white residents. Some residents at the first public hearing praised the department, urging them “don’t fix what’s not broken,” and described the committee as “political.” But in the working group sessions, other points of view have emerged.
For instance, some committee members said they felt safer having a police presence at the high school. But Charles noted, “When I see a police officer in the school, I feel terrified.” Anecdotes about racial bias in the community have come up – Nayyar recalled that one resident called the police about a young Black man who was walking down the street in downtown Chappaqua. An officer was dispatched, talked to the man, and found nothing to pursue. (In the BIPOC community, this is known as “Black while walking.”) Carroll remembered the case, which happened before he was chief. In another New Castle incident, someone called to report “a suspicious-looking black man, wearing a Con Ed hat and driving a Con Ed truck.” The only suspicious feature in either case was skin color.
The police chief says he believes the department does a good job, but that self-reflection is important, because there is always room for improvement. Carroll has already met with CRE members separately and says he looks forward to doing so again. Some of the working group sessions have become heated as challenges and disagreements have surfaced. But that seems to be a sign that it is working - grassroots democracy in action.
Additional information and work sessions videos are available HERE.
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