Use of Force Community Meeting is ‘Forced’ Off the Road

See Video: Syracuse Police Department Hits Major Obstacle as Community Meeting Erupts

The city of Syracuse Police Department held the scheduled Community Meeting to discuss the new Use of Force Policy. The meeting comes after the Grace Street arrest of Shaolin Moore went viral, caused a visceral response from the African American Community, including elected officials. Syracuse Common Council President Helen Hudson was clear in her concern with the arrest, in addition to questions regarding the new rules governing the Use of Force as outlined by the Syracuse Police Department.

On Tuesday June 19th, Syracuse Police shot DeWayne Watkins, 74 who according to Syracuse Police, “Officer David Craw encountered DeWayne Watkins, 74, of Syracuse armed with a weapon. Watkins menaced Officer Craw with the weapon and then Officer Craw discharged his firearm at Watkins, striking him multiple times.” The shooting exacerbated a situation that has some African American residents of Syracuse, frightened, angry and growing more and more despondent. The DeWayne Watkins case is now being handled by the New York State Attorney General’s Office.

Complaints against the Syracuse Police Department, the people testifying about their SPD experience weren’t confined to African Americans; there was a multi-cultural parade of people represented the mosaic that is Syracuse, NY.

Standing room only crowd at St. Lucy’s Auditorium for the Syracuse Police Department’s Community Meeting

As the meeting began, Chief Buckner admitted that there were problems and that he was committed to fixing them. However, the most startling words spoken at this meeting was the apology. Buckner apologized for the Syracuse Police letting residents down in the past and that he now takes responsibility for everything. That sentiment was echoed by Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh.

Despondence, hurt and anger were on full display at the meeting that started out with a power point presentation, detailing the Use of Force Policy complete with details. Initially the meeting was calm with the audience trying to get a handle on the multiple slides complete with perfunctory phrases that were related to the issue at hand.

Chief Buckner delivered a Power Point presentation.

As time went on, there were more slides and explanations, the room grew restless, it became clear from their actions that several women had enough pleasantries and rule explanations, were waiting no longer. There was murmuring in the room. And suddenly, the St. Lucy’s Auditorium started to tremor. The format that was designed to take written questions from the audience, to place in line for orderly discussion of their comments, took a dark turn. The city’s Use of Force Community Meeting was forced off the road by a standing room only crowd. People began speaking without the assistance of audio, hijacking the microphone, and for lack of a better term, it was on! View Video: Community Meeting erupts as residents express anger

Syracuse leaders accepting responsibility for past deeds of others didn’t placate the crowd. It became clear, people wanted more.

Mayor Ben Walsh actively engaged with the audience

The scene in St. Lucy’s Auditorium was as if Washington State’s Mount St. Helens erupted and hot lava and steam poured from individuals in the crowd, as participants took over and began to pummel Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner with questions, comments and statements.

There were questions about individual cases, cases where mothers are confronting the Syracuse Police Department with their stories of terror, as they defended their, “babies”. There was a standing room crowd just wanting the Syracuse Police Chief Buckner, Mayor Ben Walsh and Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens and the administration to feel what they were feeling. What was sounded in that meeting was collective community hurt, disappointment and yes, there was searing anger.

When people were told to take their concerns to Internal Affairs there was an audible groan in the room. It was clear that the audience does not consider Syracuse Police internal investigations into their mistreatment as a viable option. There were several side conversations during this event where people were asked, “would you call the Syracuse Police” a small gathering in unison said, “No!”

Over 200 people turned out for this meeting.

As more and more people took to the microphone, individual officers were being named, tied to specific incidents, people and places, to situations that are all too familiar. And the anguish of a generation of young African American men, allegedly being beaten for no reason, jailed and released without charge. People are coming forward and have stated after being beaten, arrested and not charged, they didn’t file any complaint; they just wanted to get out of the situation and get their lives back.

People also complained about wanting their police officers to live in the city, the Mayor’s response was politically correct, “Yes, I’d like that too” but it becomes a union issue. And as every union contract related issue came up, there was another audible groan from the audience.

Police Union President Piedmont (File Photo)

It became clear so many of the issues presented are being faced by Syracuse residents, especially people of color, and any meaningful corrections are contingent upon SPD Union acceptance. Those who’ve listened to SPD Union President Piedmont are keenly aware that nothing is going to be different, as long as there are certain items enshrined within the contract. A PBA contract stuffed with provisions, those little clauses city officials and others can use as a shield against public scrutiny when things go terribly wrong.

As a member of the audience pointed out, “You’re negotiating with the police union now!” he was emphasizing that the place for some of these discussions is now, at the table with the union.

Unfortunately, the Syracuse Police Union leader’s statements have repeatedly tossed kerosene on the proverbial fire. Chances of an amicable agreement with the union representing the Syracuse Police Department appear doubtful. When presented with the Body Camera mandate, the union demanded extra pay for wearing the device. When Officers from the Moore Case, were reprimanded for Unprofessional Behavior, Piedmont claimed this was due to, “political pressure”. Like a moth to a flame, Piedmont appears to be drawn to making statements intentionally designed to pull this community apart.

To believe city officials in attendance weren’t moved by various testimonies would be an understatement. At 6:00 pm Friday evening during the event, the Syracuse Police Department announced additional Community Meetings in different parts of the city. Syracuse Police Department Announces Four Neighborhood Meetings

While frustrated, hurt and angry most gave credit to Mayor Ben Walsh and his administration for facilitating this dialogue, as one participant said, “This has been building up for 50 years and no one had the guts to handle this issue”.

Syracuse Surge Proposed by Mayor Walsh in 2019 State of the City.

Syracuse’s long term fiscal health has improved. Many of our young residents have hopes and dreams tied to this community, envisioning new growth and a brighter future. With his election Syracuse voters broke with tradition and responded to Ben Walsh’s vision of “Rising Above”.

The Walsh Administration was riding high with major decisions on the Syracuse Surge, the removal of Interstate 81, Blueprint 15, are among a plethora of initiatives that are beginning to bear fruit.

Friday night’s meeting was proof that we’ve got a long way to go, especially with our Syracuse Police Department before we can declare victory on “Rising Above”.