Thursday, March 6, 2008
The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg
Brother Officers Question DA’s Handling Of Ridley Investigation Fear, “Politics As Usual”
Sunday morning, February 24, fully one month following the tragic death of Mount Vernon Police Officer Christopher Ridley, in the City of
White Plains, at the hands of four County police officers, the National Black Police Association held a press conference on the steps of Mount Vernon City Court. It was clear that those member police officers who came out to express their concerns about the conduct of the investigation, and to offer their support to the family of Officer Ridley, as well as to their brother officers involved in the incident, were displeased with the direction the Westchester District Attorney’s Office had taken and, particularly, with the secrecy and selective leaks they had engaged in.
Damon K. Jones, Executive Director of the Westchester Chapter and National Board Member of the organization, made no bones about the fact that his group was most displeased by the concerted effort within four hours of the incident by County Police and Prosecutors to leak out the information that County Detective Robert Martin, a Black man, was involved in the shooting. Officer Ridley, a 23-year-old Black police officer, was off-duty, and dressed in civilian apparel, and was in the process of arresting Anthony Jacobs, 39, a homeless, emotionally troubled resident of the County Drop-In Shelter, with a long criminal record, who had just severely assaulted a 59-year-old Bronx man,
whose identity has been meticulously kept from the press and media, when he was shot by four County police officers who apparently mistook him for a criminal assailant. To that issue, Jones declared, “We want more training; Racial Sensitivity Training.”
Jones went on, “The Black community is at a great disadvantage so long as the present conditions persist. Racial bias plays into critical decisions. Comprehensive training is needed. It must not be politics as usual.” Jones was referring to the fact that there are too few Black police officers, particularly at high levels in communities such as Mount Vernon and Yonkers, which have large numbers of Black residents. More specifically, he was referencing studies that have shown that a plain-clothed Black police officer, holding a gun, is far more likely to be mistaken for a criminal assailant than a White officer under the same conditions.
The Guardian asked Jones, “If you had your own way, who would you want to be conducting the investigation into the shooting death of Officer Ridley?” Jones quickly responded, “It should be investigated at the Federal level. Police can’t police themselves.” Mr. Jones and the National Black Police Association, Westchester Chapter, have serious concerns regarding the Yonkers Police Department, a department
that is under investigation by the FBI as the result of its long, infamous history of severe and persistent police brutality. The organization which strongly advocates for community policing points to the fact that Yonkers, a city of just under 200,000 residents, nearly 33,000 of
whom are Black, has a police force of 673 of which only 27, or four percent, are Black.
In light of the Yonkers Department’s poor reputation, and the blanket unwillingness by either the mayor, Phil Amicone, or his hand-picked Police Commissioner, Edmund Hartnett, to even acknowledge the brutality problem, Jones communicated by letter to the commissioner in December of last year. In addition to the obvious need to actively recruit more Black police officers, Jones suggested:
• The installation of cameras in squad cars that would protect the rights of citizens as well as shield police officers from false allegations;
• The development, finally, of an independent civilian police review board;
• The use of name tags by every uniformed member of the police department. Yonkers police remain one of the few departments anywhere in
the state that does not use identifying name tags;
• The establishment of community policing. In addition to their constructive suggestions, the organization let it be known to Commissioner Hartnett that they had become aware of “threats to certain members of our Organization from the rank and file of the Yonkers police department,” because they had taken a “stance in support of the Yonkers Chapter of the NAACP and the complainants regarding the issue of police brutality and police violence.”
Further addressing problems in Yonkers, Jones reviewed the devisive tactics of that Police Department consistently falsely charging innocent individuals with Resisting Arrest, Trespass, and Disorderly Conduct, a tactic repeatedly reported to The Guardian by innocent civilian residents of that city; men and women alike, of all ethnic backgrounds, who have been railroaded through Yonkers City Court by police, corporation counsel, and the Westchester District Attorney’s Office.