Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Black Community Leaders Voice Frustration With Yonkers Mayor, Police Commissioner and District Attorney In Handling of Police Brutality

Last Monday morning, one day prior to Election Day, Karen Edmonson, President of the Yonkers Chapter
of the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People, and Damon Jones, Executive Director of the Westchester County Chapter of the National Black Police Association, held a joint press conference outside Yonkers Police Headquarters to air their concerns with regard to the lack of progress in the elimination of police brutality in that city. In addition to Edmonson and Jones, other leaders from the Black community, including attorney Mayo Bartlett, Yonkers Democratic City Council member Pat McDow, and her Republican opponent, Larry Sykes, voiced their displeasure and disappointment with the foot-dragging and lack of progress that have characterized negotiations with Mayor Phil Amicone and Police Commissioner Edmund
Hartnett for the past 14 months.

Edmonson indicated that over the last year she had “meetings, meetings, meetings, but no progress” and that she hadn’t been turning over complaints to the Yonkers Police Department for several months because she couldn’t rely upon their Internal Affairs Division to actually investigate. Instead, she indicated that she had been bringing such complaints directly to the United States Department of Justice. Expressing her frustration with the Amicone Administration, and its unwillingness to even acknowledge the extent of the police violence problem, much less deal with it, Edmonson acknowledged the press conference was timed to raise voter awareness about the pervasive issue.

Damon Jones, following Edmonson to the microphone, told reporters, “Of 18,000 police departments throughout the United States, Yonkers is the only one that I am aware of where police officers do not wear a
name tag.” Jones declared that the Amicone Administration has been in complete denial regarding the extent
of the problem. He suggested that “whistle-blower” regulations needed to be strengthened in order to encourage
the overwhelming percentage of dedicated, law-abiding officers on the 650-member Yonkers Police Department to come forward and help root out those who have been guilty of brutality and unlawful conduct.

He stressed that the problem did not merely involve Black and Latino victims but that there were many complaints from Caucasian and other victims as well.

Criminal defense attorney Mayo Bartlett told reporters, “Rogue police officers weaken the public’s confi-dence in the department.” He reemphasized the importance of “strengthening ‘whistle-blower’ provisions so that those who are misbehaving can be weeded out.”

Those who spoke, repeatedly reiterated the need for name tags, video cameras in police cars, increased sensitivity training, and, most importantly, an effective civilian/police review board. Police Commissioner
Hartnett, on numerous occasions, has expressed his hesitancy and concerns with respect to the establishment
of a review board, and, has failed to date to offer any alternative to those formulas that have been proposed.
The Guardian asked Ms. Edmonson, “You have indicated that you’ve been going to the Justice Department
with complaints of police brutality, but what about our own District Attorney?” Edmonson replied, “I am not satisfied with what the District Attorney’s Office has done about this problem. When police engage in brutality, they most often charge their victims with Disorderly Conduct and Obstruction of Justice. The DA knows those charges are bogus, but still prosecutes them anyway.”

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