Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Ten Months After Exposure, No Progress Toward Ending Yonkers Police Brutality
Mayor And Police Commissioner Dragging Their Feet


The headline of the September 21, 2006 edition of The Guardian read Mother 72, Daughter 49, Charge Yonkers Police Brutality. Six days later Police Commissioner Robert Taggart resigned, effective
November 2nd. The story gave a detailed description of how a mother and daughter, two mature, conscientious
citizens of Yonkers, who had spent their entire lives living on a residential street behind Saunders High School,
had called the Yonkers Police Department to report that a bloodied and beaten teen was in need of emergency assistance, as the result of an altercation with their neighbor.

The boy had come to their door at night seeking help. For being good Samaritans, and lending their assistance to someone in desperate need, Tina and Mary Bostwick were brutalized by a responding Yonkers Police Officer.
That incredible account had opened a floodgate of responses from all over the community, and on Saturday September 23, the Yonkers Chapter of the NAACP, under the direction of Karen Edmonson, together with Attorney Michael Sussman, conducted a three hour “speak-out” at the Riverfront Library. The event drew more than one hundred attendees, many of whom had risen to their feet to share their horrific experiences at the hands
of brutal Yonkers Police Officers.

Also present were local civil rights attorneys Debra Cohen and Randolph McLaughlin, together with three law students from Pace University Law School, who gathered information from those seeking legal redress.

Because the session had been organized by the NAACP, a majority of those in attendance were people of color. However, there were a number of caucasian men and women reporting as well. One fellow told those assembled
that a friend of his who worked as a Correction Officer at the County Jail, told him, “We can always identify persons who have been arrested in Yonkers because they are usually so badly bruised and beaten.”

Last Saturday, July 21st, Al Sharpton came to Yonkers at the invitation of Ms. Edmonson. It had been fully ten months since the ‘dirty truth’ about Yonkers Police Brutality had been publicly exposed. Many had hoped that
would have made serious efforts to identify and weed out the violent perpetrators in the ranks, hopefully no more than ten or twelve rogue officers in a department of six hundred.

However, such was not the case. And, although very disappointing, it did not come as a surprise to The Guardian which had three times requested an interview with the commissioner regarding his plans for dealing with
police brutality and had each time been rejected, despite the fact that he had promised to meet with us. The third attempt to arrange an interview was met with outright rudeness from the commissioner.

The Guardian approached Karen Edmonson inquiring as to why she had brought Al Sharpton into the effort to eliminate police brutality in Yonkers.

Edmonson said, “I would not have reached out to Reverend Sharpton had there been any progress in talks with Mayor Amicone and Police Commissioner Hartnett.”

Mr. Sharpton, who was originally scheduled to speak at the Messiah Baptist Church on Warburton Avenue in
downtown Yonkers, came instead to the African-American Festival at Trevor Park, when word from the Yonkers Police Department warning that “there might be civil disobedience” following his appearance, caused the pastor of the church to bar the event.

Sharpton issued a brief statement to the press and the more than 400 persons at the park. Summing up the situation as he saw it he declared, “There’s been about eighty complaints of police brutality in Yonkers so
far this year, and more than half have come from white folks.” With that observation the civil rights activist was drawing the important distinction between what might have been seen as racially-motivated police brutality,
and what is, in fact, long standing, unbridled brutality by a stubborn core of Yonkers Police Officers against men, women, and children of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. Indicating that his organization would be setting
up shop in Yonkers, the often-controversial activist promised, “We will be non-violent but firm.”

To date Mayor Amicone, and his hand-picked police commissioner have failed the families of Yonkers miserably. They know very well that citizens should not live in fear of needing to call upon their police department
when they, or someone else, is in need of assistance. The police of-ficers responsible for unlawful, brutal, acts must be identified, fired, and prosecuted if decent law-abiding people are going to feel free and secure
living in the City of Yonkers.

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