Police Commissoner Bill Bratton give the keynote address at the Press of
Southeast Queens’s Black History Month awards breakfast. Photo by Bruce Adler.
BY LUIS GRONDA
Police Commissioner William Bratton discussed the importance of Black History Month and how it intertwines with police during his keynote address at the PRESS of Southeast Queens awards breakfast Tuesday morning.
Bratton’s most telling comment, and the one that got significant media attention earlier this week, was when he noted that the past and the relationship between police and the black community needs to improve.
“Many of the best parts of America’s history would have been impossible without police. All the freedoms we enjoy — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear — sit on a foundation of public safety,” Bratton said. “But sometimes the relationship has not been so good — and refusing to acknowledge it would not only be naïve, it would be reckless and irresponsible. Because many of the worst parts of Black history would have been impossible without police, too. Slavery, our country’s original sin, sat on a foundation codified by laws and enforced by police.”
He cited an example of when the Dutch settled in New York and Peter Stuyvesant became the Director-General of New Amsterdam back in 1647. Bratton said one of the first actions Stuyvesant took was to create a police force to deal with the colony’s “lawlessness, drunkenness, and prostitution.” He also said that Stuyvesant used slaves to build the colony’s first pier.
“Since then, the stories of police and Black citizens have intertwined again and again. And the unequal nature of that relationship cannot and must not be denied. Police maintained a legal and social structure in which blacks, whether free or slaves, were at the bottom,” Bratton said.
But Bratton did not just reflect on the negative.
The Police Commissioner also discussed extensively how crime has decreased in the City over the last 20 years, saying that both police and the community said “enough” to crime that ran rampant throughout the City in the 1970s and 1980s.
According to Bratton, major crime has dropped 75 percent since 1993 and murders fell from 2,262 in 1990 to 333 murders last year, an all-time low according to the NYPD.
“And the vast majority of the lives saved — those thousands of lives — lives of victims spared and of offenders saved from prison — have been Black and Hispanic,” he said.
“We are safer than we have ever been. Even our toughest neighborhoods are safer,” he said.
Bratton then circled back to how police and their actions can still cause outrage, specifically citing the protests in Ferguson, Mo. and in the City.
He mentioned a speech given by FBI Director James Comley, who discussed policing and race at Georgetown University earlier this month. Comley discussed “hard truths” about the relationship between police and the Black community, specifically saying that cynicism often develops between the two groups because of bad relationships.
“The NYPD needs to face the hard truth that in our most vulnerable neighborhoods, we have a problem with citizen satisfaction. We are often abrupt, sometimes rude — and that’s unacceptable,” Bratton said. “Our actions — particularly the overuse of stop, question, and frisk — have been counterproductive.”
He continued that the NYPD’s critics also must face a “hard truth” that they often misrepresent the police force as well.
“My officers spent much of the fall being accused of terrible, untrue things. They were shouted at, spat upon, even assaulted. Two were assassinated for nothing more than being cops,” he said. “When protestors chant, ‘What do we want? Dead cops!’ we have gone too far as a society.”
Bratton said that he acknowledges that there is police brutality against residents that occurs in their ranks and they root out that behavior from the department when they find it. According to Bratton, in 2014, the NYPD intentionally used their firearms only 42 times, out of 20 million contacts with civilians, 4.5 million radio runs, and nearly 400,000 arrests.
Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @luisgronda.