It’s been three months since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis inspired months of protests across the country, including near-daily rallies in New York City.
While protest coverage has slowed, these gatherings continue to happen nearly every day across the five boroughs — and the reaction of the New York Police Department and Mayor Bill de Blasio has, in the eyes of these protesters, only made things more intense.
That was the case last week for North Bronx Racial Justice, a local activist group headed by Jennifer Scarlott. After seeing video of 18-year-old Nikki Stone being arrested and loaded into an unmarked van during an unrelated protest along with an NYPD stakeout of activist Derrick Ingram’s apartment — which police commissioner Dermot Shea later said he was unaware of — the organization decided it should bring the marches closer to home. Like to the home base of the 50th Precinct in Kingsbridge.
A small group met at the Episcopal Church of the Mediator on the evening of Aug. 11, first gathering to share why they were marching — to see “real change, not Joe Biden and Kamala Harris change,” as one speaker said.
Preparing to march down Broadway towards the precinct, the group unfurled two hand-painted banners, decorated by Yvette Weaver’s 16-year-old son.
“Working with the North Bronx Racial Justice committee has been steered by the treatment of my son, at public school 141,” Weaver said. “And, just, very obvious prison pipeline of how that school has worked, and if a child doesn’t fit into a certain silo there, that that child is criminalized. And especially brown boys.”
Her son’s time at Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, she said, was marked by being demeaned and treated “like a thug.”
“And he was called those things, too,” Weaver added.
She pulled him out of the school, feeling fortunate that it was an option as she saw him on what she called a “serious decline.”
Racism wasn’t just an issue in school. Weaver’s son and his friends have been told by police officers to leave while sitting outside the library. They have even been followed by neighbors while hanging out in Riverdale.
Her son, Weaver said, has made it clear that he doesn’t feel comfortable spending time there.
The protest was called in response to what organizers described as recent police brutality, which they say has roots in Riverdale. A popular chant among protesters, including the group marching through Kingsbridge last week, is “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Dermot Shea has got to go!”
Shea, now the NYPD commissioner, served as the commanding officer at the 5-0 for two years beginning in 2006. Prior to his appointment as commissioner last fall, he worked as the department’s chief of detectives.
His promotion was criticized by the Legal Aid Society, which said in a statement that under Shea’s watch, the NYPD had expanded its gang database and sought to secretively collect DNA evidence, even from people who had not been charged.
Three years ago, a video from Marble Hill went viral depicting officers from the precinct repeatedly punching 16-year-old Alfred Burns in the head after he allegedly attacked an officer who was arresting him for stealing a bicycle. Terence O’Toole, the 50th Precinct’s commanding officer at the time, defended his officer’s use of force, even telling The Riverdale Press the teen was “a scourge on the Bronx.”
A representative of the of the 50th declined to comment on the protest.
Ian Christner, a father of two and community liaison with the 50th, said both the community and the police were “caught up in unrealistic and unfulfillable expectations.”
“We need to reassess the relationship between the community and the police, and have more input from the community as to how the police act,” he said.
Christner had come out to the protest because he said he could not allow the attempted arrest of Derrick Ingram go without a response.
“This is an escalation in an already tense situation,” he said. “And we need to be able to communicate that with our police department.”
Christner says he’s an optimist, and thought the strained relationship between the police department and the people of New York could be patched up.
But for some, fixing the relationship isn’t the goal — restructuring the system is.
Pierina Sanchez, a former Kingsbridge resident who is now running for city council seat currently held by Fernando Cabrera, found out about the protest online and returned to her old neighborhood.
The relationship between the community and the cops is strained, she said, in part because of issues people are facing like unstable housing, jobs, and other problems which sometimes manifest in violence. And while some see police as a solution to the violence, Sanchez wants to broaden the focus to address the root cause of clashes.
“I think that they are very well resourced, and they could spread those resources,” Sanchez said. “I am a supporter of defund the police for the funding more of these issues.
“And then, it’s about respect. It’s about mutual respect with the community. It’s about coming to the table and listening to what we have to say.”
Weaver agreed — both with defunding and changing the nature of the policing. She’d like to see them approaching their community as neighbors, and in kindness.
“Rather than chasing kids away, rather than chasing people away from the places that they live and being criminalized and made to feel unwelcome where they actually do live, be part of the conversation,” Weaver said. “I’ve never had a positive interaction (with police), or felt safe.”