Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Neighborhood Watch: Absolutely;
But How In A Community Fearful Of Police Brutality?

Last Wednesday night, at the Riverfront Library in Yonkers, Virginia Perez, sister of the late Martin Perez, who was senselessly slain December 17th of last year, shot to death while making a delivery from the Emerald Diner opposite Yonkers City Hall, attempted to launch a Neighborhood Watch Program intended to prevent further violent crime in the community. Virginia’s, and her parents’, lives, will never be the same. They are left with Martin’s infant daughter, and only memories of him.

There’s been one arrest in the senseless robbery gone bad shooting. There was no reason to kill him as he fled for his life; no reason to snuff out his 25-year-old life. Those who loved him are broken-hearted. His sister Virginia is determined to make something meaningful and caring come from her family’s tragedy, and ultimate sacrifice. Police reportedly know who the second perpetrator was, the cruel trigger-pulling bastard who took away a son, a brother, a father with one merciless act.

To his credit, Mayor Phil Amicone came out and spoke to the three dozen, or so, thoughtful residents who showed up. However, the Mayor’s words, in reality, were just so much political rhetoric, given his continued refusal and failure to deal with Yonkers’ legendary
police brutality, especially in the minority community. How do you get Latino and Black residents to work with police who have such a notorious reputation for beating them up without provocation? Council President Chuck Lesnick, whose Chief-Of-Staff Rocky Richard and Community Coordinator Carol Bengis were there in support, also spoke.

Councilwoman Pat McDow observed, probably rightly so, to this reporter, that the function would likely have been better attended had it been held shortly after the tragic killing, rather than four months later. But, Councilwoman McDow blew the opportunity to bring the minority community closer to the police when she sided with the Mayor more than two years ago and buried any attempt to create a Civilian Police Review Board to deal with multiple cases of police brutality. She sold out her constituents then, and stands by the Mayor and his
Police Commissioners in their denial and refusal to this day.

Perhaps Virginia was too optimistic believing that many people would be willing to devote some of their time to making their neighborhood, or even their building, a safer place. Perhaps she was unrealistic to believe that people would care enough, even about their own, and their family’, safety and well being, not only to give up some time but to risk their own safety in the process. Nevertheless, it was only a first attempt, and, although she had put out flyers, it was obvious that a more personal, a neighbor-to-neighbor networking, will be necessary if enough volunteers to set up an effective Neighborhood Watch are going to be signed up.

As with any campaign, a series of small gatherings, coffee klatches, from apartment to apartment, explaining the concept, the cooperation between neighborhood monitors and units of the Yonkers Police Department, might go a long way to ease apprehension and suspicion. The concept will take hold only when a sufficient number of caring neighbors personalize what happened to Martin Perez, realizing that it could have been them, or a member of their household. It will take hold when enough people get angry and say, “Enough is enough”, deciding they are no longer willing to live in fear.

Unfortunately, in his brief remarks, Mayor Amicone failed to include in his references to cooperation between citizens and the Yonkers Police, any acknowledgement that, given the Police Department’s reputation for brutality, particularly amongst communities of color, a mammoth effort would be necessary to establish rapport and trust. It is unrealistic to expect Blacks and Latinos to easily communicate
with police in Yonkers. It will take a reaching-out effort by Black and Latino police officers, to convince the majority of those living in the poorest, most crime-ridden areas of the City, to work with, and trust, the police.

Nevertheless, Virginia Perez has the right idea, even if she’s somewhat ahead of her time. With time and patience and, most importantly, persistence, an effective Neighborhood Watch will eventually be born, and her brother Martin’s death will not have been in vain.

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