Haitian Bar Association hosts talk on community-police relations
This past Monday, at the Mount Zion Church of God 7th Day in East Flatbush, the Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York, in conjunction with the Haitian American Caucus, hosted a community discussion on the relationship between race, community and law enforcement.
“These are trying times that we are experiencing in our country, and if we don’t come together as one, we will all suffer,” said New York state Sen. Roxanne Persaud. “Now is the time to put our differences aside and to work together for the betterment of our country and our community.”
Nearly 100 people packed into the East Flatbush church for the three-hour long event. Ritha Pierre, president-elect of the Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York (HALANY) and Josué Pierre moderated the event.
The panelists included Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte; Marc Fliedner, former chief of the Civil Rights Bureau at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office; Raniece Medley, director of outreach at Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB); Mario Michel, founder of SDA International Law Enforcement Fraternal Organization (SILEF); and Gregory P. Mouton, of the Law Office of Gregory P. Mouton Jr.
“The goal of today is not to just have a discussion, it’s to problem solve,” Ritha Pierre said. “At the end of today, I hope that everybody takes something away from the event and that you continue this discussion when you leave here today.”
The heart of the discussion surrounded what can be done to improve relations between the police and local communities. Everyone agreed that there was a problem — but with five panelists, each coming from a different profession, there was certainly a lot of disagreement on what steps to take going forward.
Bichotte began the discussion by focusing on what our local elected officials are working on in Albany, including a bill to protect 16- and 17-year-olds from being tried in court as adults, as well as a bill that was passed to seal the records of minor marijuana offenses, which, in the past, have kept people from gaining employment even years after their offense. Bichotte also suggested that the black community shouldn’t be the only one that has to teach its children on how to avoid confrontations with police.
“We’re trying to invest in black and Latino kids, because they are dying,” Bichotte said. “They are dying in the streets, dying in prisons. We’re trying to get them college-ready, work-ready.”
Michel, a police officer whose organization SILEF works to improve police and community relations, suggested that the focus of these debates shouldn’t be on who’s to blame, but instead should be on how to avoid future confrontations that can escalate to violence. He also said that police need better training to learn how to diffuse situations.
There were a few heated back-and-forth exchanges during the debate. One involved Bichotte and Michel, who spoke about how police react to injustice that occurs. Another tense discussion between Medley and Mouton focused on the role the CCRB can and should play in incidents with the police.
“The worst possible thing you can do, in my opinion — and I’ve litigated over 300 civil rights cases — is go to CCRB if you feel that your civil rights have been violated… It’s not a step that you need to take,” Mouton said. “I counsel everyone in here; it is a way of firmly setting what the tone of future litigation will be, and I don’t think it’s necessary. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, it hurts.”
Michel went to the defense of the CCRB and suggested that it’s real punishment for cops and that too many complaints against them can result in an inability to be promoted or further training.
Fliedner, who was involved in the prosecution of police officer Peter Liang, who was responsible for the death of Akai Gurley in Brooklyn, encouraged attendees take the discussion out of the church and hold lawmakers responsible for changing the system.
“What can black members of the community do?” Fliedner asked aloud. “They need to participate in conversations like this and learn enough about the specifics so they can go to their assemblymember or city councilperson and ask, ‘What is going on with this particular situation; what can I do to do my part?’ That’s more empowering than being one of those people in the streets marching.”
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