Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Hosts Roundtable on Police-Community Relations

July 31, 2014

Video available at: https://youtu.be/VuTtO-ZaJE4

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Actually, Marco is starting us off.

Commissioner Marco Carrion, Community Affairs Unit: Alright. Welcome, everyone. I’m Marco Carrion, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, and we are thankful that so many of our admired community and spiritual leaders are gathering here in City Hall today. The death of Eric Garner was a tragedy that no family should have to experience. And today we’ll take part in a conversation about how to prevent future tragedies and to continuing to foster the relationship between police and our communities. So I’d like to start off by making some introductions. First off, it’s my pleasure to introduce Councilwoman Debi Rose, who has been a staunch advocate for Staten Island and who has been deeply engaged since day one. Councilwoman–

Councilwoman Debi Rose: Thank you, Commissioner Carrion. “It ends today.” Those were the prophetic words that were uttered by Eric Garner on July 17, just before he was put into a chokehold. This horrific incident, which happened in my district, was witnessed by the world. It precipitated an unprecedented response to the callous indifference that was witnessed on this video. There was an immediate response from the mayor and the police commissioner, guaranteeing or giving us assurances that there would be an expedited, transparent investigation. And they, in fact, have done that. This meeting today is being facilitated by the mayor to bring about continued dialogue between the community and the New York Police Department. We’re thankful for the opportunity to be here to say once again to the NYPD and to all involved that we are a community that mourns, but we are a community that demands justice. And I thank the mayor and the police commissioner for facilitating this meeting.

Commissioner Carrion: Thank you, Councilwoman. And now Reverend Sharpton, who has long been the first to speak out against instances of injustice affecting people of color in our communities. Reverend Sharpton–

Reverend Al Sharpton: Thank you. I am joined by several people this morning. First, who speaks for the family, Bishop Evans; and our head of the region, Minister Kirsten Foy; and then one that helped to mentor me in Civil Rights, Reverend Herbert Daughtry; and Cynthia Davis, who heads the chapter National Action Network in Staten Island who called me on this. And we are honored to join the clergy of Staten Island.

Let me be very direct. I think, Mr. Mayor, that you ran and captured the hope of this city because you seemed sensitive to the fact that we were caught in between two serious problems. One was violence in our community and crime. The other was police that had gone over the line – stop-and-frisk and others. And I think that your ability to show some sensitivity is what raised hope and gave you the plurality that you got to become mayor. But now, I think we’ve got to go from that hope to actuality. And people feel that you are not just another politician, but that you the transformational mayor that they look to be. The fact of the matter is, given the data that we are seeing in terms of these Broken Window kind of operations, it’s disproportionate in the black and Latino community. If Dante wasn’t your son, he’d been candidate for a chokehold. And we’ve got to deal with that reality. We’re not talking about training. Training is important. But you don’t need training if a man is saying 11 times “I can’t breathe!” and you still holding him in a grip-lock. You don’t need training, you need to have people that understand the law is what they protect and uphold. They are not above the law.

I heard the commissioner say race wasn’t involved. We don’t know that. How do we assume before an investigation that a policeman with two civil rights violations didn’t have race involved? So we gon’ prejudge what we want and tell the community to wait on the results? I think it is important that we do the business of transforming the police department without losing one beat in keeping crime and violence down, because we are the worst recipients of that as well.

So, I think many of us are willing to help in a real transformation, but we can’t do it with window dressing. We can’t do it – as you said – with just some proclamations. We’ve got to do it with real engagement. And if that’s what we going to do, then I think that I can speak for NAN and I and say that I will be there. We’ll be the best friends. If we are going to just play spin games, I’ll be the worst enemy because I am tired of seeing people bury their kin. When I stood with Bishop Evan – this is a real man lost his life. We’re not talking now – too many people involved in this act like these families are props for some other agenda. This is real life. And unless we solve it and deal with it and you raise the hopes to be the mayor that could do it –unless we do it under you, I don’t know how we do it. And that’s why we’ve got to deal with the criminal justice issue and we’ve got to deal with the policing issue.

We’ve asked the Feds to come in because that’s the only time we’ve seen success. With Louima, we had to go to the feds. With Baez, Feds. Rodney King, which I did in LA with others, Feds. The state courts seem incapable of breaking this kind of relationship with the police department. So, yes, training is one of the answers, but until police know they will pay and they will pay the same way people in our community and every other community has to pay when they do a crime, it will keep going. I think that Commissioner Bratton, who you told many of us who had questions about him give him the benefit of the doubt, I think he was right when he said that you got to deal with training. But I also think, Commissioner, that the best way to make police stop using illegal chokeholds is to perp-walk one of them that did. And when they understand they got to pay like anybody else that breaks the law, it will send a lesson that ten training lessons will not give them.

I didn’t know if there was a time limit so I just kept going.

[Laughter]

Commissioner Carrion: Thank you, Reverend Sharpton. Next, our Police Commissioner Bill Bratton–

Commissioner Bill Bratton, Police Department: Mr. Mayor, Reverend Sharpton, and all gathered here today [inaudible] pleasure to be here this morning to discuss the tragedy that occurred on Staten Island, but also to discuss the opportunities that arise from that tragedy. Last night, at police headquarters, at a meeting with the newly-elected president of the NAACP, Cornell Brooks, who lives in Newark, he talked about the idea of from this tragedy that we take the opportunity to learn from it and to move forward. The Reverend just talked about taking the idea of hope and actualizing that hope and so what I’ve been attempting to do, working with the mayor moving forward from the events in the 120th precinct, is to identify issues that may have contributed to the events on that day.

As you’re aware, for the last number of months since my appointment, we have been engaged in a major reorganization and reengineering of the NYPD to identify where are we doing well, where are we not doing well, and where might we do better. One of the areas that has clearly been a focus of our attention – it was referenced by the Reverend Sharpton, but I would disagree in some respects with him on the issue – is that of training. Training is absolutely the essential catalyst for out of this tragedy finding opportunity – opportunity that the mayor is very supportive of in that my intention moving forward is that we shall retrain the whole department, all 35,000 members, and particularly those 20,000 officers who routinely work the streets in uniform or plainclothes. We have put together a very quick budget projection for what it would take, how long it would take. I have people currently in Los Angeles. They’re going to Las Vegas and we have worked with the major city chiefs, IACP, NOBLE – National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives – with the police foundation, with the Police Executive Research Forum, and with the National Institute of Justice to gather up the latest state of the art in terms of police engagement and use of force when engaged in enforcement actions.

Our focus will be to develop – within the New York City police department – the state of the art in terms of how do we engage with the public – engage in a way in which we are not just there to generate activity, but that we are there to engage to deal with the issues and concern they have, but to do it in a way that we build respect, we build trust, we build confidence – rather than the events of the 120 precinct have done – erode confidence in the police and erode confidence in what our intentions are.  We will learn from this. We will move forward from this. We will move forward in a way to ensure that the memory of this tragedy is around the idea of the good that came out of it rather than just the negative. I am committed to that. This is going to take some time to address in a variety of ways. The investigation of the event itself is in the hands of the district attorney. We have our internal affairs unit supporting that investigation and doing the parallel administrative investigation that will be so necessary.

So that’s the prescribed process that we need to all work within – and have patience with – to get the facts, all the facts, upon which to make decisions. But in the meantime, that we are moving forward with the identified issues that have surfaced as a result of the 120 as well as the reengineering process.

This is an organization – the largest within the country – arguably one of the greatest – that has been deficient from my perspective in the training it gives to its officers as we ask them to – when they see something, to do something. But to do something in a way that they understand that they have wide range in discretion to work with. Move along, summons, admonishment, potential arrest – and if resistance is met – then use of force. But in every stage of that, to give them better training then we have done in the past. And we’re not talking about a one-shot event, we are talking about certainly a retraining at the moment but every year going forward, bringing our officers back for three, four, five days – whatever it will take – to keep them contemporary with state of the art. The mayor and I in our discussions over this past week that he is fully supportive of, fully in agreement with this need and this urgency and the commitment that we are making to the public of New York, to the public that we serve, and to the public that we also rely on in our democracy – that we must understand that public safety is not just the responsibility of the police, it is a joint responsibility with the community. And the way we get the community involved is to build respect rather than distrust, and that is what we are certainly going to be committed to going forward.

Commissioner Carrion: Thank you, Commissioner Bratton. And finally, our Mayor, the man who put an end to stop and frisk, and who is equally determined to prevent tragedies such as the one that occurred to Eric Garner two weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mayor: Thank you very much Commissioner Carrion. I want to thank you and everyone at the Community Affairs Unit at the Mayor’s office. I think in these last weeks, you did extraordinary work, working across the range of community leaders and members, to try and help bring people together, try and get the right kind of dialogue going so we can make positive change. So thank you for your leadership. To everyone here today, thank you for coming to City Hall for this meeting. Part of the process of change and reform is to invite in leaders of every community, have a real dialogue – a candid dialogue, a thoughtful dialogue – on the things that will heal, the things that will bring peace, the things that will bring us forward. And it’s the essence of a democracy to never shut down that dialogue. Reverend Sharpton had strong views and I welcome the display of strong views on the pathway to figuring out how we can work together and make change. That is part of what the democratic process is about. It should never be feared, it should never be held back. So I want to say a warm welcome to everyone coming here together to make sense of how we can better the situation for all of us. And I do think this is what needs to be the beginning of a deeper discussion with all the communities we serve. What leaders have to do always is see a way, find a path, but then bring all of our people along to it. And I think that’s a part of a bigger process of reform that we came here to do. I appreciate Reverend, the way you framed my pathway to coming to this office.  I want to say in response to that, I take the responsibility of reform and change very, very seriously. But I also know that when we are trying to resolve issues that were years and decades in the making, the work of reform takes real intensity, real effort – and some real patience, and not the kind of patience that suggests that we wait and wait and wait – the kind of patience that says we have to get it right. And this is the path we’re on now. Commissioner Bratton is entirely right about training. When you think about anything about any large human endeavor, getting everyone on the same page – in this case we’re talking about almost 35,000 people – getting everyone on the same page, helping everyone to understand what’s expected of them, what the rules are, what’s the model we hold here in this city –and doing that over and over again. Every professional – I don’t care if you’re a teacher or an airline pilot or a police officer – every professional needs training and retraining. And it has a huge and tangible impact. So, I’ll never misunderstand if people want to see the tangible, they want to see results now. I understand that impulse, but I guarantee you, systematic retraining will have a huge impact. And it will help us to bring out the best ideas. It will help us to draw the police closer to the community, and the community closer to the police. This is ultimately something that involves mutual respect. And I think it’s particularly pertinent that we have faith leaders in this room who are by definition in our society the peacemakers, who are by definition those who create understanding where it doesn’t exist. And that path of healing and creating peace and creating dialogue is what we are about writ large. That’s really how we will solve these problems in the long run. And the role of clergy is absolutely essential to that process.  

Everyone feels a sense of pain over what happened to Eric Garner. I said that when I saw that video I was deeply troubled. I remain troubled because someone was lost – a family lost someone dear to them, a community lost someone. It pains us to this hour. Commissioner Bratton's right – we have to find in this tragedy something that will help us get better. It would be a great disservice and injustice to not find change and reform out of this moment, and that's why we are gathered here.

Now, Reverend Sharpton made a crucial point. We have two equally important goals: to keep our communities safe, in fact, strive to ever make them safer; and to create that mutual respect, every citizen be treated with respect, every citizen treat the police with respect – true mutual respect. It is hard to achieve. We're a big complicated city – 8.4 million people – but this is the mission we're on, to create that mutual respect while keeping crime low. I want to commend Commissioner Bratton and Chief Banks, and everyone at NYPD for continuing to drive down crime. And I also want to commend them for starting aggressive processes of reform, so that we can have low crime while creating more dialogue and mutual respect. But we have to do both. Reverend Sharpton's exactly right – one without the other is a disservice to the communities we all serve. 

The idea we've put forward from the beginning is that we have a clear ethic running through our approach to policing. It has to work, by definition, it has to work materially. We have to see people are safe, and getting safer. And when we saw, for example, recently, particular problems in public housing, we added a large number of police officers to some of the developments that were most troubled. We added additional lighting. We added additional youth programs to help young people have a positive alternative. We are obligated to make those moves, those decisions, those adjustments, whenever we see a problem. And that is certainly quintessential to the approach that Commissioner Bratton and Chief Banks have taken. So, we have to get that right each and every day. But the ethic underlying that is creating an understanding that everyone wears a uniform – just what Commissioner Bratton said, the day he announced, he said the day he was sworn in: policing in New York City has to be constitutional, it has to be respectful, it has to be compassionate. That's an incredibly powerful sentiment, and this Commissioner has said it time and time again. And if that is our guiding star, I think that summarizes a lot of what we all came here to do. The Commissioner has also said repeatedly, you can't break the law to enforce the law. Again, an essential notion that now is the official viewpoint of this police department, and that is a powerful step forward that will yield results more and more over time. To all the clergy leaders – yes, today we're going to be hearing your insights, your suggestions, your beliefs, your recommendations, but it's also the beginning of a partnership for action. 

And everyone knows that we in this building believe in getting things done, and we’re going to be turning to you to act with us, and the door will always be open for your ideas and suggestions and how we can act better. Reverend Sharpton and I have and that relationship for a long time and we have been able to do good by having that sense of collegiality. I’ve mentioned the extraordinary work of Commissioner Bratton and Chief Banks, and all the leadership and all the men and women of the NYPD following this pathway – safety and respect. Some of the leaders of the administration are here, including First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris, Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli are playing a key role in these efforts. Rachel Noerdlinger, chief of staff to the first lady – well known to many of you as playing a key role, someone who’s been at this work in many, many forms for many years now. As our corporation council, Zach Carter has been an essential part of our equation to create these reforms. We have a team here that’s focused and ready to get things done. And I’m going to go over some of the things we’ve done already and the pathway forward and, of course, a profound thanks to Council Member Debi Rose, who’s been a partner in all we have been doing and I’m – thank you for your leadership in so many ways.

I said in the beginning of this journey that we would make change and we would make it now. And if you look at the situation with what was a broken stop-and-frisk policy, I think it’s one of the best examples. We aggressively settled outstanding lawsuits. I want to thank Zach Carter again for the extraordinary work he did to turn that page. We changed the approach, we changed the policy, and numbers are abundantly clear. In the first quarter of 2013, there were nearly 100,000 stops, in the same period for this year, 14,000 stops. And those stops, more and more, with more and more training are being done the right way – when there is a rationale and when there is actually a reason that leads to further action. We all know in the previous dynamic almost 90 percent of those stopped got no summons, no arrests, no nothing, because they hadn’t done anything. Now you see people stopped more and more because there is a reason and there is a consequence, and that’s what we set out to do.

In Commissioner Bratton, I appointed the finest police leader in the United States of America period – and I’m convinced of that. I did a lot of research to make sure that someone who could do those two things right – keep us safe and create an atmosphere of respect. And anyone who has not looked at Commissioner Bratton’s achievements in Los Angeles really should. I know reverend Sharpton had a chance to see some of that work in action. The LAPD was in a particularly tense and difficult dynamic with the communities it was supposed to serve. Some of that is legendary. And Commissioner Bratton was charged with turning that around and creating a relationship between police and community where literally it had almost never existed – and he did that to an extraordinary degree. And that body of work, that evidence that he had the ability to create that kind of reform and re-bond police and community is one of the powerful reasons why he sits here today as our commissioner.

Another thing I appreciate deeply about Commissioner Bratton is he understands the important role of oversight. He’s spoken about it many times. He doesn’t deny its importance or act like it doesn’t exist or suggest it’s a burden. He understands that in a democracy it is necessary. In Los Angeles again, there are many layers of oversight, and an atmosphere of collaboration was created where police and oversight entities worked together – that was part of why the reforms happened so well.

We now have in New York City today a different approach to oversight. We have an Inspector General in Phil Eure – brand new role, brand new leader in that role that’s going to help us make the relationship between police and community better. We have a new head of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Richard Emery, a well-known reformer and change agent who’s going to help us make that entity what it should have been long ago – and make it fair to both community members and police officers by creating speedy and clear judgments so that no one is left with a situation of justice denied or a process that leads them to nowhere.  These are reforms that are going to have a big effect that have taken place just in the last months and are going to yield fruit more and more. We know that this tragedy has gotten us all in a frame of mind to figure out solutions, and we know we are also waiting for these investigations to go forward as commissioner Bratton said. The D.A., Internal Affairs, the review that the CCRB will undertake of the chokehold complaints it has received over the last few years – all of these elements of oversight are going to have an impact. 

The change has been happening. The change will continue to deepen. And it will be felt in every neighborhood of this city. We also have to perfect the citizen element of this change, because it's ultimately, always a two-way street, the relationship between police and community. We've got to create mutual respect. We've got to create a spirit of cooperation, we've got to create a sense that we are all in this together. 

Part of what we hope to achieve in the changes we made is the idea that the trust would regrow, that there'd be a re-bonding between police and community, so that community members will be the first to help alert the police when there is a problem, the first to help the police do their job better, and police would respond with the appreciation and the collegiality that is necessary to keep building that relationship. 

We had an incident in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, just a few months into my term. Two young police officers shot at by a criminal, one hit, falls on the street, the other one runs away – the other, the perpetrator runs away, the other officer runs after him. Community members immediately came to the aid of the fallen officer. Other community members pointed out where the perpetrator had fleed so the other officer could get to the perp and arrest him, and get the gun away from him, and therefore keep everyone safe. It's a little moment, one small moment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn – but it illustrates where we need to go, that notion that we are all bonded, and we're all in this together. A lot has to happen to get that to be pervasive in an everyday reality in this city, but that's where we have to go. I know everyone around this table is a part of that solution. And we have to bring it to the grassroots. Real social change occurs at the grassroots. 

So it's good that we're sitting here in City Hall, and it's good that we're thinking together – but then all of us have to bring it to the grassroots. And that's where it will actually stick and become part of the firmament of this city. I'll conclude simply by saying, I not only appreciate this gathering – it gives me hope, it gives me confidence that we're going to get somewhere together. I take Reverend Sharpton's admonition to heart – the time is now. I don't think in anything we came here to do, that we expected to wait to make change. I don't care if we're talking about pre-k, or affordable housing, or any other topic – change has to happen now. And so, this dialogue today is about figuring out how we take real, tangible steps together. Thank you. 

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