Thursday, March 27, 2008
Black Law Enforcement And Black Community Have Serious Problems With Westchester Justice System And District Attorney’s Office In Particular
People Of Mount Vernon Refuse To Accept DA’s “Fast Shuffle”
Last Wednesday afternoon, some 200 family, friends, and fellow police of-ficers of Christopher Ridley, as well as 15 members of the Mount Vernon clergy, stood in the pouring rain at 85 Court Street, White Plains, to rally and speak out regarding the handling of the investigation into his tragic death by the White Plains Police Department and the Westchester District Attorney’s Office.
Reverend W. Franklyn Richardson, pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, made the feelings of those assembled abundantly clear when he declared, “We are here because we are not happy with the results of the grand jury.” With that statement, the crowd broke into a repeated chant, “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!” Rev. Richardson went on, “We are gathered here to say that we are dissatisfied with the conclusion that no one could have acted differently.”
Turning specifically to his dissatisfaction with the actions of the District Attorney, Richardson told the crowd, “Janet DiFiore said to me ‘Without truth there is no justice.’ We say, without justice there will be no peace. We will not go away.” He went on, “We are calling for a summit to discuss how the Criminal Justice System works in Westchester.” Reverend W. Darin Moore of the Centennial Church in Mount Vernon, stepped forward to address the gathering. Moore, who is Mount Vernon Mayor Clinton Young’s close friend and pastor, empassioned, “The blood of Christopher Ridley cries out to us. We hear, and we cry out with Christopher Ridley. We will not allow the
conspiracy of silence to silence us.”
Rev. Moore remarked that it was altogether fitting that the rally occur just before the Easter celebration, observing, “Until we get the facts of the crucifixion, we cannot join in the resurrection.” Rev. Richardson then followed with, “Justice is our agenda. We are out here in the rain because we feel justice must come. It was a mistake not to call for an independent investigation from the beginning. The District Attorney and the White Plains Police and County Police are too close.”
He concluded, “We want the Judge to release the transcripts from the grand jury; and, DA Janet DiFiore will be asked to release the statements of the police. Furthermore, we want Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to enter the investigation.” Damon K. Jones, President of the Westchester Chapter of the National Black Police Association, who has been calling for a federal investigation into Officer Ridley’s killing from the start, declared, “Everywhere Black cops are being treated as perpetrators.” Jones has been pointing to the broader implications of the circumstances that contributed to Officer Ridley’s death, right along. He is particularly disturbed with what he describes as the “sweep under the rug technique” of Westchester politicians, particularly the District Attorney, describing such actions as a “disservice to the Ridley family as well as to the four County police officers involved in the tragic incident.” In a published statement entitled, Will the Black Community Ever Have Trust In Law Enforcement, Politics, And the Justice System In Westchester County? released last Monday, March 17, which we reproduce in part, Jones cited several reasons why those involved in the investigation did not perform a “complete and thorough investigation,” stating, “For instance,
• Within four hours of the tragic event, Detective Robin Martin’s name, the only Black of-ficer involved, was leaked to the media and the
community at large.
• After investigating the crime scene for four hours, there was no shell casing found from Detective Martin’s gun.
• There was no final ballistics report indicating whose gun was used for the two fatal shots that killed Detective Ridley.
• Detective Ridley was reported to have had powder burns on his shirt. What is the distance from the shooter to the target that will render powder burns?
• The report to the family that one officer was so close, he claimed he could have grabbed Ridley’s feet while he and Jacobs were struggling for the gun. Why didn’t he react with pepper spray?
• The disrespectful and discouraging manner in which some interviews were conducted; on one occasion involving imprisonment. Was this because their statements contradicted the pre-judged theory that the blame was on our brother Detective Ridley?
• Why wasn’t the Mount Vernon Police Department’s I.A.D. Unit involved in the investigation? It is normal procedure to have a representative from the officer’s police unit participate in the investigation when one of their member’s weapons discharges.
For the Grand Jury to make a determination within 35 days on a case that involved police firing their guns during rush hour in downtown White Plains is troublesome, and appears to be inadequate to say the least. The DA’s office claims to have had 62 witnesses that came before the Grand Jury. Are we to assume that 62 witnesses gave statements, were questioned and follow-up was done to validate their statements including cross-checking with the video surveillance; and this was all completed within 35 days of the incident?
How is this possible when it took almost a year to investigate the Sean Bell case, a civilian with less than half of the witnesses, a police
department much larger, with more resources, before going to the Grand Jury? For the Westchester PBA President to criticize
supporters of the Ridley family by saying they must have an “agenda” and a “preconceived outcome”, he is totally mistaken. Nothing is preconceived when New York’s history shows that this type of unfortunate incident only happens to Black law enforcement professionals and NEVER in the reverse. Nothing is preconceived when generations of Black males have been subjected to police brutality, police misconduct, and unjust shootings cloaked by biased institutional policies that allow them to say it’s ‘JUSTIFIABLE HOMICIDE’.
The Westchester NBPA’s statements are not an indictment of the four County police officers.
This is an impartial continuous request for a fair and full investigation for COMPLETE JUSTICE. We would hope to think if the families of the four County police officers were in the Ridley family’s situation, they would request the same.
Unfortunately, Westchester County is using smoke and mirrors on the issue at hand. The Westchester NBPA feels they are totally missing the point. We need to deal with ALL Law Enforcement that carry a weapon off-duty and have the powers under NYS Criminal Law Section 2.10 to make warrantless arrests and the use of deadly force. That should include training for Police Officers, Probation Officers, Court Officers, Corrections Officers, Sheriffs and all other Law Enforcement Professionals that fall under NYS Criminal Law Section 2.10 in Westchester County.
It is no surprise that minority citizens, especially the Black community, have a constant cry for justice. The tragedy of Detective Ridley and its ‘so-called’ investigation is a constant reminder of the negative perceptions and biasness of institutional policies. We must take a critical examination of the issues at hand. There is a lack of Black representation among law enforcement agencies in the cities, towns, and villages of Westchester County. There must be certified, conventional training for all law enforcement officers on how to carrying firearms off-duty. There must be racial sensitivity classes to better understand the races and cultures they protect and serve. There must be better community relations with the minority community.
Without these things the Black community is at a tremendous disadvantage and can never hope to receive the service and protection from the police they are rightfully due.” District Attorney Janet DiFiore, and those advising her, have sadly miscalculated the determination of the Black community and Black law enforcement if they believe that they will soon quietly walk away. Officer Ridley’s death has
served as a wakeup call about all that has been wrong with the Criminal Justice System in Westchester for far too long.
Christopher Ridley, at 23, embodied all of the soul and the spirit that any mother and father would be proud to see in their son. His actions on the afternoon of January 25, 2008 were not merely heroic, but in the finest tradition of public spirit and personal selflessness. Young men of that caliber come along all too infrequently; and his loving family and the police officers he worked alongside of, will simply not permit the Westchester DA’s Office, in its usual callous, political expedience, to sully either his actions or his memory.
Rev. Richardson was so right, but so gentle, when he observed that the District Attorney, and the White Plains Police and County Police
were “too close” to produce an objective and comprehensive investigation. He was alluding to the historically notorious incestuousness of
the Westchester DA’s relationship with both of those departments, and others.
We, of course, knew from the get-go that Officer Ridley was getting the ‘fast shuffle’. When Assistant District Attorneys Patricia
Murphy, Mike Hughes, and Lana Hochheiser, a “Treacherous Trifecta”, appeared lurking in the background at the press conference
at White Plains Police Headquarters just 23 hours after the incident. When she was running for DA three years ago, Janet DiFiore told
the People of Mount Vernon that she came from their city. Apparently, however, that fact didn’t keep her from letting them down, treating
their grievous loss with the same political calculation and expediency, the same self-serving coldness and dispatch so often
imposed upon police officers in Westchester.
Surely, very little instructive or remedial would ever come from such an approach. Nothing would be exposed that might offer even a glimmer of hope to the Black community that the real essence of the problem - the pervasive perception of criminality provoked by the image of a plainly-clothed Black man holding a gun - would even be identified as causal, and effectively dealt with, as the result of DA DiFiore’s control and handling of the investigation into the tragic killing of heroic Mount Vernon Police Officer Christopher Ridley. Nothing short of releasing the videotapes of the tragic incident will satisfy the People of Mount Vernon, indeed, the entire Westchester community, now!