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


5 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
Jennifer Scarlott

Thank you to the authors of this thoughtful statement on the police brutality incident that occurred in Marble Hill on October 6. This statement echoes an op-ed, "Police brutality not welcome," published in the October 20 edition of The Riverdale Press and signed by members of the North Bronx Racial Justice coalition including myself (http://riverdalepress.com/stories/police-brutality-not-welcome,63815?). The October 20 op-ed was signed by a number of clergy leaders in the NW Bronx. Many local residents understand that excessive and potentially deadly force was used against a minor on October 6, and that this incident was followed up with unconscionable and dangerous statements by 50th Precinct Commanding Officer Terence O'Toole.

A new statement/petition written by N. Bronx Racial Justice was made public early this week. It can be read in its entirety here:

N. Bronx Racial Justice Coalition: "A Police Brutality 'Vision Zero' for the Northwest Bronx"

We, the undersigned residents, organizations, and faith leaders of the North and Northwest Bronx, are disturbed by the October 6, 2017 incident on Broadway and West 225th Street in the Marble Hill neighborhood, when a police officer punched a pinned and immobilized, 16-year-old Alfred Burns in the head 13 times. As shown in a viral video of the incident and reported on by many NYC media outlets, passersby pleaded with the police officer to cease, while another officer made repeated attempts to pull the former’s punching arm in an effort to stop him. The video shows the officer using force beyond what was reasonably necessary to disengage Burns from the police officer who was pinned underneath him, endangering the well-being and even the life of a teenager.

We are also disturbed by the remarks made by Deputy Inspector Terence O’Toole, Commanding Officer of the NYPD’s 50th Precinct, to a journalist following the incident. Deputy Inspector O’Toole characterized Burns as a “scourge on the Bronx” who was beyond change, which is not within the purview of law enforcement to decide. “He [Burns] is 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.” This statement by Deputy Inspector O’Toole indicates his apparent belief that the NYPD is judge, jury, and executioner. In citing the juvenile’s rap sheet to justify his subordinate’s actions, Deputy Inspector O’Toole ignored the established rules of engagement governing the use of deadly force. Furthermore, in what has been seen as an act of intimidation, Deputy Inspector O’Toole stated that two bystanders – one who made an attempt to stop the officer and another who screamed in reaction to the situation – are subject to arrest.

We are appalled that Deputy Inspector O’Toole justified what happened by saying: “You saw police work in action.” Whether this was a Freudian slip or a deeply-held normative conviction on policing in America, this remark and the mentality underlying it are not aligned with the trajectory on which America has embarked towards a fairer, less punitive criminal justice system. As a nation, we have diminished the drug sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1; as a state, we have raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years of age; as a city, we have “banned the box” and ended the solitary confinement of juveniles. Other New York City minors who committed acts similar to the one Burns allegedly committed were offered appropriate treatment and support rather than 13 blows to the head.

We cannot accept Deputy Inspector O’Toole’s characterization of this incident as proper “police work.” Too often, police officers have acted with impunity and little accountability, a situation brought to light by the ubiquity of cellphone videos and social media documenting police brutality. The case of Alfred Burns was but one incident, but one incident is too many—all police brutality is unacceptable and intolerable. We call for a “Vision Zero” for the NYPD: a vision for policing where the public good is paramount, officers follow their own rulebooks, and in which the NYPD truly “protects and serves.” In accordance with this vision, we call for the following:

1. Fire and prosecute the unnamed police officer who unduly harmed 16-year-old Alfred Burns.

2. Fire Deputy Inspector Terence O’Toole and bar him from employment at the NYPD and any other local law enforcement agency.

3. Require that the Commanding Officer replacing Deputy Inspector O’Toole uphold the standards of professionalism befitting an officer and civil servant beholden to the public good.

4. Release to the public the findings of the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) investigation into the October 6 incident.

5. Conduct an independent, impartial investigation into the October 6 incident, in addition to the IAB investigation, and release the findings to the public.

6. Cease any police attempts to locate, bring into custody, harass, and/or intimidate the two aforementioned bystanders of the October 6 incident.

We acknowledge that NYC leadership – up to and including Mayor de Blasio – bears the ultimate responsibility for the events of October 6, including the unprofessional remarks made by Deputy Inspector O’Toole. Criminal justice reform is primarily under the control of local government, including New York City. Yet the reality on the ground is that momentum has stalled and accountability has not been provided in cases of police brutality. Trumpeting the abolition of “Stop-and-Frisk” has done nothing to address the implicit biases and systemic disparities that have made poor people and people of color the disproportionate victims of harmful police practices. We therefore call for immediate and sustained action by Mayor de Blasio and every elected official to ensure that the NYPD protects and serves all of New York City’s communities and is at all times accountable and transparent to all New Yorkers.


Rev. Dr. Hermon Darden, Pastor, St. Stephen’s UMC

Jone Johnson Lewis, Leader, Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture

Rev. Andrew G. Butler, Christ Church Riverdale

Rev. Doug Cunningham, New Day Church

Lisa Asedillo Pratt, Assistant Pastor, New Day Church

Dominican Sister of Blauvelt Ceil Lavan, OP

Rabbi Pamela Wax

Jennifer Scarlott, N. Bronx Racial Justice & Bronx Climate Justice North

Mary Hemings, N. Bronx Racial Justice & Bronx Climate Justice North

Robert Schwab, N. Bronx Racial Justice & Bronx Climate Justice North

Wayne Price

David Knapp

Ryan Elivo

James G. White

Suzanne Corber

Anne Price

Jo Anne Kraus

Jonathan Lessuck

Dee Knight

Ariana Holback

Joan McKiernan

Julia Worcester

Ruby Lee Palma

Jennifer Woolwich

We will be gathering local, NW Bronx signatories in addition to those listed above. We call on local elected officials and community leaders including Assemblyman Dinowitz, NYC Councilmembers Cohen and Rodriguez, and members of Community Board 8, particularly the members of CB8's Public Safety Committee, to make their views known about this incident and Deputy Inspector O'Toole's subsequent statements. Again, we express solidarity with the neighbors who authored this week's letter to the editor, "Neighbors unite to question police."

Friday, November 17
Jennifer Scarlott

To all concerned residents of the North and Northwest Bronx and those living in the Bronx 50th Precinct:

To add your name to the N. Bronx Racial Justice statement that you can see in the comment directly above -- "A Police Brutality 'Vision Zero' for the Northwest Bronx" -- please go to the Change.org petition site here:


Thank you, and please share the petition widely to Bronx residents.

Friday, November 17

No thanks. I'm very comfortable with the actions taken by the police in this one incident. You see, stealing a bike and then trying to choke the life out of a police officer is not something I condone. But good luck with your little project. I'm sure, much like all the others you endorse, it will go absolutely nowhere.

Friday, November 17

@Wondering, given their suicidal mindset, chances are they would thank the perp for attacking their family member because it "points out the structural racism that exists in society."

I also notice basically no one has signed their ridiculous petition, so it's clearly just a vanity project that shows how "virtuous" they think they are.

Sunday, November 19

I highly recommend to these people that instead of trying to fight police culture that instead they look inward at their own party and party operatives and ask, "why are there so many woman abusers amongst our ranks?"

From Glenn Thrush, the discredited NY Times hack who was both caught on Wikileaks as an operative for CLinton and who has now been exposed as a serious sexual predator, to John Conyers, who yesterday was exposed as a serial adulterer, to Louie CK, who has recently been exposed as a serious pervert, to Al Franken, who never saw a woman's breast or backside he didn't want to forcibly grope, to Bill Clinton, whose rape accusations now stretch back to the 70's and now has been exposed as a frequent flyer on Epstein's Lolita express, it seems the Democrats have a serious problem.

Perhaps it's time to stop lecturing all of us on "proper" behavior and take a good hard look inward.....

Tuesday, November 21