New York City Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton spoke Tuesday morning in Jamaica, Queens, a community where minorities are the majority. In his remarks, Bratton addressed racial tensions that followed the police-involved chokehold death of Eric Garner, among other recent events in New York City.
After dropping some names in honour of Black History Month (Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks), Bratton conceded a shocking sentiment for a leader so loyal to his department and policing in general:
“The best parts of American history would have been impossible without the police. Many of the worst parts of black history would have been impossible without police too.”
After that admission, Bratton gave a short history lesson on Peter Stuyvesant, one of New York’s original colonists. As director-general, one of the first steps Stuyvesant took was creating a police force — and the next was using slaves, according to Bratton.
Since then, New York’s history has “intertwined” the lives of police and black citizens again and again.
“Slavery — our country’s original sin — sat on a foundation codified by laws and enforced by police, by slave catchers,” he said to the predominantly black audience at The Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York.
While Bratton also expressed the crucial role that police have played in maintaining civil rights and freedom of speech, he also acknowledged a “deepening racial divide in this country — a divide we thought we had healed.”
Protests broke out across New York City’s five boroughs last December after a grand jury on Staten Island failed to indict the officer responsible for choking Garner. Since then, Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio have desperately tried to address that divide.
Bratton’s speech on Tuesday was clearly part of those efforts. After discussing the city’s early history, Bratton said, “the NYPD needs to face the hard truth, that in our most vulernable neighborhoods, we have an issue with police satisfaction.”
“We do celebrate. We celebrate how far we’ve come, and we recognise how far we have to go,” Bratton said.
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