June 7, 2023
REAL TALK From AJ Woodson

Open Letter To The Leaders of Mount Vernon: There’s A War Going On Nobody Safe From – Where Is The Public Safety, We Don’t Feel Safe, Our Kids Don’t Feel Safe!!!

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So, I’m sitting at home chilling trying to watch the NBA Playoffs and my phone blows up with texts and phone calls, from people about what happened at the funeral of Tamani Tajohn Turner who was killed on April 6th. I got calls my friend Melissa Thomas made a very passionate live video on Facebook about what happened at the funeral. Anyone who knows Melissa knows she don’t go on Facebook complaining, so to see her and her mother that upset, upset enough to make a video was very sad about how bad things are going in the city. You could not help but to be moved. If that wasn’t enough then the phone started ringing about a school board meeting where parents, teachers and staff members are describing an incident that happened at Hamilton Elementary School on April 11th where the kids do not feel safe, and some haven’t been back to school since. I could not get through 20 minutes of the video of the school board meeting without feeling the pain and fear from staff members and parents talking about the fear of their children.

There is an election coming up, for Mayor, two City Council Members, and five school board trustees and all the candidates and elected officials running for re-election are telling us how they will keep us safe if we vote for them, talking about community policing, how they will keep our children safe in schools and everything surrounding public safety. I have been quiet as far as the election is concerned. But it’s time for some REAL TALK!!!

On Tuesday, April 4th Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard (SPH) told us during her 2023 State of The City Address that crime has gone down. Gone down where? What are we comparing it to? It is worse than last year and last year was really bad. Just a few hours earlier, Save Mount Vernon held a rally, residents and community leaders called for a state of emergency so Mt. Vernon could receive the much-needed resources to deal with and help put an end to the senseless violence plaquing the community. Mayor SPH was standing directly in front of the speakers, 100 feet away from where Turner was murdered in broad daylight, a week before. She listened and then told the community crime is down a few hours later. She blamed the violence on bail reform, retention of officers etc. But the problem with that is you told us when you were campaigning you could make us safer, if we voted for you. It’s a difficult job, I give you that, but you signed up for it. The buck stops with you as the CEO of the city.

I usually cover, take pictures and video press conferences and rallies but this day, I even volunteered to speak. Not as the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester or the 2nd Vice President of the MV Branch of the NAACP, but as a resident who lives less than a block away from where Turner was murdered. A resident who hears the pistols go pop and not just after dark anymore, there are now too damn many incidents during broad day light, like a shooting a half a block away on West 4th Street between Greater Centennial AME Zion Church and the Mount Vernon Health Center (both who have a lot of traffic during those hours). I named all the shooting and stabbing that have happened in the last year or so all within a block from where I live. I spoke because when it comes to Public Safety, I DO NOT FEEL SAFE! Like many others I’m losing all faith that our leaders in charge of public safety can or will do anything to make me and everyone who lives in my side of town safe.

Mayor SPH, I have spent hours on the phone asking you what your plan is? As a member of the NAACP, with two other officers including our new president Kathie Brewington, we requested a meeting with you and the police commissioner to discuss your plan for the public safety of the city and ending the senseless violence. While I respect the work Deputy Commissioner Jen Lackard is doing dealing with mental health issues, she does not have any law enforcement experience. And while our Police Commissioner is dealing with some health issues and we were told he missed the meeting because he had a doctor’s appointment, I believe, there wasn’t a captain, lieutenant or other high ranking police personnel present to address our concerns. Like I’ve said to your predecessors, I say to you, we have had these conversations several times before I decided to write an editorial about it. I do not feel my concerns as a resident have been addressed.

Let me take this time to say, this is not an anti-police post. Many members of the Mount Vernon Police Department are doing the best they can with what they have. As the lowest paid Police in the county, overworked and underpaid and without a contract since 2017, I believe. Even during COVID where when the rest of us were told to stay indoors and everything was shutdown, they had to report to work every day and worked hard to keep us safe. And then there are all the officers we are losing to other departments mostly because they can make more money to take care of their families, I cannot be mad at them, but what is the plan to retain our officers, to pay them a comparative wage so they stay. This is not a new problem; it’s been going on for decades and all the departments trying to be more diverse in the aftermath of George Floyd. But what is your plan to deal it that and give officers a reason to stay. So again, this is not an anti-police post.

We just had the one-year anniversary of 16-year-old Kayla Green being stabbed to death again in broad daylight by another female teen. This was an event that rocked the city, like the killing of Shamoya Mckenzie a few years before. Every leader talked about the need to end this senseless violence. If there was any event that should have moved our leaders to put a plan in action it was that. I think its actually worst one year later, not better or safer. One thing that is the same, parents going to school board meetings talking about their children not feeling safe, scared to go back to school. One year and one week later, on April 18th, parents are demanding a safe environment for their children. This time a male with a big dog walked into the school unimpeded.

Above is the April 18, 2023, School Board meeting, watch and listen to the parents, students and staff members talking about how they do not feel safe. And just so you do not think I am exaggerating, here is story posted exactly from one year ago, April 19, 2022, with a parent asking the school board, superintendent and leadership, “What Are You Going To Do To Keep My Daughter Safe In School.” The video is Antoinette King who left almost everyone choked up when she spoke about her daughter and others on the cheer team receiving death threats and how her daughter is are scared to go back to school. She was only one of the many speakers who spoke in the aftermath to Kayla Green’s death. Do you know how much it pains me to have to have this conversation a year later. Despite all the vigils, rallies, marches, meetings and promises from politicians we are not any safer. Again, I feel less safe now than I did a year ago which means we are moving in the wrong direction. Like I said last April, it’s not even hot yet, it’s only going to get worse. We all know as the mercury rises so does the senseless violence.

I have to say, I have lost all faith in our leadership. A young man said the very thing last year before a march for Kayla, he told his peers, we can no longer depend on adults who keep making promises but do nothing to keep us safe, we have to do it ourselves. To the residents you have some important decisions to make at the ballot box this spring and summer. We have to stop just giving our vote away and make better choices.

Like Kevin Shaw, whose son, Kevin Shaw Jr., of the Bronx, who was shot and killed in the passenger seat of a car coming from Sue’s Rendezvous, Wednesday, June 24, 2015, said in 2017 to our leaders, it’s like Black Lives Don’t Matter In Mount Vernon. The days of empty promises to get our votes are over, we the voters need to make these candidates and elected officials earn our votes and if they do not do what we need them to do them we need to vote them out and find someone who will. But you have a part to play as well, you need to get involved and stop voting and thinking your job is done. Politics is a participatory sport!

On Wednesday afternoon, Save Mount Vernon is having another rally at 3pm. This time in front of the Westchester County Courthouse. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired and you can make it, you need to come out in large numbers and make your voices heard, (see flyer below). And you need to keep speaking up until your voices are heard!

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