By Mark Hallum
The recent spate of police violence, including the shooting in Dallas, has black residents in Queens on edge.
State Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) and state Assembly candidate Clyde Vanel, who has a law office in , took the opportunity to organize community meetings to discuss ways to make peaceful and meaningful change. Those who attended the meetings expressed fears for the safety of their children, while some told horror stories of loved ones they had lost to police shootings.
At LIFE Camp, a violence-prevention center founded by youth advocate and human rights activist Erica Ford in Jamaica, Sanders hosted a discussion on stopping the violence. It turned heated as residents explored topics which brought some participants close to tears and rage. One mother whose son was shot by police officers spoke loudly about her experience and defied Sanders when he called for order in the meeting. She was soon escorted out before the situation could escalate.
“Now we have an encounter with the police, and at the end of that encounter, we are dead. The encounter is usually something minor – broken headlight, taillight – something minor,” Sanders said. “And yet something terribly goes wrong, and we end up dead. I saw a poster that said, ‘The violence is not new. The camera is new.’”
Sanders called for police reform and listened intently to attendees as they offered solutions to racism within law enforcement. There was agreement pn further use of police body cams as well as an independent third-party monitoring of the footage to prevent tampering. Other suggestions included educating community members on their legal rights and the proper way to file complaints of police misconduct, as well as having a say in what will be contained in the NYPD patrol guide. Some residents called for drastic action while the senator urged the crowd to choose organized and peaceful action.
“Police, you need to clean up your ranks. Police, you can’t have it both ways,” said Sanders. “If you say many cops are good, then turn in the ones that are bad. You know better than anyone who’s a racist in your midst. Don’t let that blue wall of silence separate us from good policing. If you know that one of your fellows are racist or one of your fellows are breaking the law, and you’re silent, then you’re not a good cop either.”
Many people saw fit to have their children in the meeting. Sanders gave each of the young people time at the microphone to share their thoughts on the issue and what they see as factors in the violence. Sanders emphasized the importance of actively leading young men who may feel mistreated by law enforcement to a more meaningful solution to prevent a shooter situation such as occurred in Dallas.
“If you take a pot, fill it with water, put it on the stove, turn the heat on, put a lid on that pot and don’t do anything about it, that pot will explode,” Sanders explained. “It’s science, it’s not craziness. That type of shooting does not aid our struggle; however I don’t understand why anyone would be surprised by it. We cannot ask these youth to be humiliated and expect them not to do anything. They may do the wrong thing, but they are going to do something. It falls upon us as leaders to show them a better way.”
Sanders also made an appearance at the community meeting held at Clyde Vanel’s office in Cambria Heights delivering a similar message to those in attendance.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall