In one week, NYC Mayor Eric Adams did something that Black people in Westchester have been looking for and asking the Democratic Party to do for the last 30 years; appoint a qualified Black or Brown person to head county Law Enforcement departments.
Mayor Adams appointed Keechant Sewell for Police Commissioner of the NYPD, Wednesday, December 15, 2021, making history. The former Nassau County Chief of Detectives is the first female to hold the position. Adams, himself a former New York police captain, introduced Sewell on as his barrier-breaking choice for one of the most high-profile and powerful jobs in his administration.
“She’s the woman for the job,” Adams declared as he appeared with Sewell at a news conference in her native Queens.
The following day, Adams appointed former First Deputy of Westchester County Department of Corrections Louis Molina as the Department of Correction Commissioner, at an 11 a.m. press conference at Brooklyn Boro Hall. NYC’s second African-American Mayor made history again by appointing Molina as the first Latino to head the city’s Corrections Dept.
Meanwhile here in Westchester, we always hear our local leaders, pastors, and politicians speak on the importance of the Black Vote. We understand that our elders fought for the right for Black people to vote. The sacrifice of our elders was not a small task to ensure that Black people could exercise their constitutional rights.
For many Black people, the narrative is, let us get a Democrat elected to office, to claim they’re on the winning team or vote for a Democrat is a vote against Trump but that is not enough for many Black folks. Then we conveniently blame other political parties because our political, economic, and family institutions are at a constant decline before our eyes. This notion has been the ignorance of our collective.
But as long as we’re able to take photo ops or sit close to the table at a dinner dance with those we supported, we are oblivious to the long-term damage our ignorance has done to the many Black communities throughout Westchester.
When it comes to real change in Law Enforcement, Black people in Westchester are victims of what is called “Spectacle Political Orchestras,” where it’s more about symbolism than substance or reality. No actual fundamental policies or legislation have been enacted to change Law Enforcement policing Black communities here in Westchester.
Even Suffolk County, Long Island with a department that’s been struggling to recruit minorities and has a long history of being criticized for corruption and abuse, has just sworn-in former NYPD Chief Rodney Harrison as its first African-American Police Commissioner, Tuesday, January 11th. It should be embarrassing for Westchester County that touts itself as the most diverse administration. There is nothing diverse about Suffolk County Government or Police, but they beat Westchester is appointing an African-American person to run its Police Department, not as a deputy commissioner but in the top spot.
Not one major city in Westchester County is immune to high-profile incidents involving questionable police actions and the use of force against Black people. Even with all Law Enforcement experts recommending Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), not one Democratic-run city has an active CCRB. The silence of our Democratic elected officials on this issue has been deafening!
In Westchester, we only have a few Black elected officials. So when we give our vote faithful and unconditional, we should see our people in power positions. There is an old saying, just because your my Skinfolk doesn’t mean you’re my Kinfolk. The meaning of this saying is that just because you are the same color that I am does not mean you’re going to represent me as one of yours or in political terms; represent our interests. Only 38 percent (4 out of 10) of Black people view political representation in elected positions as a catalyst for increased equality, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey.
So you may ask, why is Law Enforcement so important?
Law Enforcement in a free society aims to promote public safety and uphold the rule of law so that individual liberty may flourish. Trust and accountability between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect are essential to advancing these goals. The government holds power to exercise force in achieving its ends but must do so to protect the rights of community members and uphold the rule of law. Proper policing practices require that law enforcement build positive relationships with their community, respect civil liberties, and avoid tactics that encourage excessive force against citizens.
One of the primary goals of the civil rights movement was to enlist Black Police Officers in the ranks and file. Also, to promote and hire Black Commissioners and Chiefs. The purpose was twofold: to end discrimination in the police force and curb police brutality against the Black community.
It is no secret that in many of the municipalities here in Westchester, Law Enforcement has abused its power and abused the people that loyally vote for the Democratic party. But we vote for these elected officials and do not see our faces in police policy-making places.
To this end, there has been complete silence from our elected officials, especially Black elected officials, to the lack of Blacks in Law Enforcement leadership. Westchester County’s Black population is 14.4 %, and Hispanic 22. 2 %. Out of the 43 municipalities, only one Black Police Commissioner and one Hispanic Chief in Westchester County.
Unfortunately, we must start to believe that this is by political design in Westchester County. Generations of Black and Brown officers have never seen or experienced Law Enforcement leadership from their ethnic background at the top Commissioners positions.
When our elected officials that we faithfully give our vote continue to appoint White leaders of Law Enforcement departments, what message do these appointments give to the Black officers that equally put their lives in danger daily and aspire to rise the ranks? For Decades Black and Brown officers in Westchester have worked and retired and have NEVER seen someone that looks like them heading their department or any other department in Westchester County.
What message are we giving our youth? We show them that Black lives really don’t matter. You can be Black, Brown, and have Masters Degrees, but the Westchester County, we will instead have a White Man in some cases have less education and experience at the top of the department giving order to you, so just make your money and stay in your place.
Westchester County government has no Black or Brown person as Commissioner over its three Law Enforcement Departments. The last and only Black person to head a Law Enforcement Department for the Westchester County Government was Norwood E. Jackson, the former Commissioner of the Department of Corrections. A Republican appointed him, and it was over 30 years ago! Do we believe that Black people in Westchester, who give our vote faithfully and loyally, cannot get ONE position on a county level? Are we also to believe that there is not any qualified Black or Brown person to head a Law Enforcement department in the county? It must be the case because they continue to be all White, and all White men.
In Westchester, White Law Enforcement Chiefs and Commissioners can have scandals, civil rights lawsuits, federal investigations under their leadership, and play musical chairs jump from one Law Enforcement Department to another with open arms from city officials that black people vote for. At the same time, qualified Black candidates never get a chance and are never considered.
In County Executive George Latimer’s first term, community advocates, including the Urban League of Westchester, White Plans/ Greenburgh NAACP, Grand Council of Guardians, Blacks in Law Enforcement of America (BLEA), Westchester Coalition for Police Reform (WCPR), the National Association of Blacks In Criminal Justice (NABCJ), and others submitted over 15 resumes of qualified Black and Bown candidates. Even one that had a Doctorial in Criminal Justice. But we still see the same as under former Republican County Executive Rob Astorino; all White male leadership.
Politics unspoken rule is its quid pro quo, but what have the masses of Black people received for their vote regarding Law Enforcement in Westchester? We see the same leadership under Democrats as under Republicans. We are told to be happy to have a Black or a Brown person in the number two position. Hey! It’s 2022; it’s progress! They tell us that we can’t change it overnight; well, Mayor Eric Adams changed it in one week.
Are we afraid to truly address “The power dynamic in Westchester”? Here is a hard pill to swallow. Regardless of the rhetoric spoken by politicians, especially Democrats, Black people as a whole are subordinate to White people in our local and county government structure. Suppose our Democratic elected officials gain the testicular fortitude to appoint Black people in power-law enforcement positions. In that case, that power dynamic is flipped on its head, and white people who were comfortable with the status quo will feel threatened; oh my, we cannot have that.
In Westchester, Law Enforcement Leadership has and will remain an all-White, White male club even under Democrats who Black people faithfully and loyally vote for. Instead of seeing appointments of leaders who look like us, we get symbolism no substance as a false sense of security that in Westchester we live in a post-racial society.