New Yorkers must have candid conversations about the state of the city's police-community relations, even though it will be difficult and uncomfortable, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said Sunday in announcing a series of town hall meetings and student video chats.
"We're going to lean into our discomfort so we can come out of that discomfort a better city and a better borough," he said at a news conference in downtown Brooklyn. "We often say that someone must be the adult in the room around these difficult conversations, and we believe the adults are going to be our young people who are going to show us how to come together and resolve these complication issues."
Active NYPD officers are invited to participate, said Adams, an NYPD captain, although traditionally the department has said cops going to such events must be off-duty, out of uniform and cannot speak on behalf of the department. Retired cops are also welcome, he said. The first town hall meeting is set for next Sunday at Brooklyn Borough Hall. The first online discussion among Brooklyn high school students, to be conducted in the form of a group video chat via Google Hangout, will be Jan. 20.
The city should talk out its problems, Adams said. He was joined by dozens of high school students as well as civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Emma Wolfe, Mayor Bill de Blasio's intergovernmental affairs director, serving as a representative of City Hall. NYPD Captains Endowment Association President Roy Richter also supports the effort and was heading to the news conference when he got into a minor car accident, Adams said.
Richter sent a statement: "We are stronger and safer when we speak with each other, especially in the wake of tragedies like our city has suffered with the loss of Detectives [Wenjian] Liu and [Rafael] Ramos. Our community has been very supportive during this time, and it highlights the importance of police-community relations."
The initiative was organized in light of citywide demonstrations against police brutality after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the death of Eric Garner, who is black, but before the Dec. 20 murders of Ramos and Liu in their patrol car. Relations between Mayor Bill de Blasio's office and police union leaders were further strained by the assassinations, with some officers calling City Hall unwilling to support them. Many officers turned their backs on de Blasio during the officers' funerals.
"We must not deny or minimize or trivialize the painful reality that a wide gap has opened between City Hall and the police unions and the rank-and-file of the NYPD," Siegel said. "History teaches that in order to overcome these problems, we need to boldly, honestly and sensitively confront them, and to do so together."
Jack Beyda, 17, of Flatbush, a Magen David Yeshiva student, who will participate in the youth video chats, said he looks forward to "an open, sincere, heart-to-heart."
The city must talk if it wants to move forward in "tranquillity, security, harmony and friendship," he said. "There is nothing wrong with dignified disagreement. In fact, it is the hallmark of our cherished democracy."