Neighbors unite to question police


To the editor:

(re: “Video shows cop punching suspect,” Oct. 12)

We are an ad hoc committee of residents of the 50th Precinct and want to add our voices to the discussion you have hosted on the pages of The Riverdale Press in regard to the Oct. 6 video and consequent reporting of a police officer from the 50th Precinct punching a 16-year-old repeatedly in the head.

The youth, Alfred Burns, was allegedly resisting arrest for a bicycle theft.

We are concerned that the response of the police was excessive and demonstrates, at best, a lack of training in self-defense, de-escalation and safe methods of arrest, and at worst, a lack of control as well as a retaliatory and punitive approach to members of the community.

This is the kind of response that has led to injury and death of unarmed black men at the hands of the police during an arrest. Eric Garner on Staten Island and Freddie Gray in Baltimore come immediately to mind.

Even more disturbing was the response of Deputy Inspector Terence O’Toole, the 50th Precinct’s commanding officer. In his statement, as quoted in The Riverdale Press, he called the youth a “scourge on the Bronx” and went on to say, “He’s going to fight with police for the rest of his life, guaranteed. And the next cop that he encounters may have to shoot him because he is going to fail to comply. Because that is going to be his lifestyle forever.”

The police are not employed as judge, jury and executioner. This statement condemning a 16-year-old to potential police execution is unacceptable by anyone, and particularly, by a person in a position of leadership and authority.

Our community and the 50th Precinct deserve exemplary leadership. O’Toole’s comments do not demonstrate his ability to provide leadership in stressful situations. His rhetoric is dangerous to residents of our community. It sets a poor example for the rank and file of the New York Police Department, and serves to further divide the police from the community.

We would like to see our local police force set an example of community harmony in these divisive times.

We believe that Deputy Inspector O’Toole should be relieved of his post and replaced with someone more sensitive to the needs of our diverse community. We also would like to see more training for members of the of the NYPD in non-lethal methods of self-defense and arrest techniques, anger management, and conflict de-escalation.

We are also calling for an independent, speedy and transparent investigation of the actions of the police officer who was recorded punching the boy in the video, and appropriate disciplinary action taken — if warranted — by the investigation.

We are calling on our elected officials and our community leaders to join with us and others to ensure safety in the community, and a police force that is responsive and responsible to our diverse community.

Laura Chenven

The author writes on behalf of an ad hoc committee of residents in Kingsbridge and Riverdale who include Sandy Prosnitze, Frances Sadler, Gene Binder, Carol Foresta, David Knapp, Jerry Goodman and Mimi Goodman.

Laura Chenven