( ENSPIRE Community ) NYCLU Hosts ‘Better Policing for a Better New York’ Event at BAMCafé in Brooklyn
ENSPIRE Contributor: Christopher Morrow
The New York Civil Liberties Union held a listening room event at the BAMCafé in Brooklyn October 11th. The backdrop of artwork and soft exhibit lighting made the space at BAM welcoming. The gathering of community members was encouraged by the speaker to move closer together and to the center of the room. Everyone was facing the stage and awaiting instructions. It is the first part of an exchange between the participants. On the screen behind the stage were the words I find myself thinking about the police… and 2 options would appear beneath them. In that case, the choices were all the time and almost never. People would navigate according to where they viewed themselves on this spectrum. Multiple microphones were passed around and gave the audience the opportunity to express their opinion or give insight as to why they stood where they did. This was the official launch of the New York Civil Liberties Union listening room series. “NYCLU is really good at policy and data. What they are trying to do with these events is offer more of a cultural aspect. To appeal to the hearts and minds.” said NYCLU employee, Toni Smith-Thompson.
The goal of the evening was dialogue. Conversations revolved around how to reconcile community relations and improve policing practices in different neighborhoods throughout the city. The set up of table and chairs, snacks and music were conducive to interaction. “I thought it was just going to be a talk,” said Maya Battle. “I was relieved to see wine and cheese.” Battle is a Brooklyn native who came to the event with friends. Battle says that she often does not know how to interact with police. “My neighborhood in Sunset Park is mostly immigrants and many people speak different languages but the police don’t. At my train station, I see people stopped and fined all the time. If it looks not ok I’ll stand by and take a picture.”
There were definite trust issues between attendees and police. The reluctance to communication between community and law enforcement was a focal point of the listening room. “There was a guy nodding off in my vestibule but I didn’t want to call 911,“ said Jaweer Brown, ACLU communications manager. “I couldn’t leave him lying there so when I did call 911 I told them that all I needed was an ambulance and no police.”
It was revealed that while the community showed up for the dialogue that law enforcement was missing. The only member of law enforcement to attend was a sheriff from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was in the unenviable position of representing law enforcement by himself. There were no members of the NYPD in attendance.
The evening ended with participants sharing drinks and discussing their experiences with police. The listening room offered a platform for people to share their insights and ideas regarding law enforcement. “I am not sure that talking is the answer,” Said Brown. “The notion that racism is an interpersonal issue.” This sentiment is an interesting contradiction from someone who is attending this event and is vocal about engaging in change.