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Westchester Leaders React to Killing of George Floyd and Civil Unrest

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Photos by Meral Kathwari

African-American and black leaders, and a few others, weigh in on the epidemic of racism and police violence that is directed towards the black community.

In the few short weeks since the killing of George Floyd by members of the Minneapolis Police Department, a wave of civil protest has spread outward through the nation, touching even our shores here in Westchester County. Protests, marches, and rallies in solidarity with members of the black community who have fallen victim to police violence have been held for multiple weekends in cities and towns as diverse as White Plains, New Rochelle, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining, and more.

We reached out to local nonprofits and community leaders — especially African Americans — to listen to what they are saying.


 

“As a dad with three children — two boys, and one really big dude who’s 6’3” and close to 300 pounds — when I look at that scenario and saw Mr. Floyd’s death, as people were screaming to stop the police officers, ‘Let him get up, let him get up,’ and then him stopping moving, it breaks your heart. It’s the combination of sorrow and anger at the same time. As the son of a police officer, I know that that was just wrong right from the very beginning.

“If I did that, or anybody else did that, you would get arrested and then the process would be: District Attorney would review the information and then they would see what you would be charged with. But you would be arrested. And that is one of the issues right now, the accountability. An arrest does not equal a conviction, it equals the first step of saying, ‘You’re going to be held accountable.’”

– Deputy Westchester County Executive Ken Jenkins


 

“Like you, I have been overwhelmed by the intensity and passion of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been peacefully protesting the death of George Floyd and calling for an end of racism and prejudice in all of society. I have walked with you and I have rallied with you.

“It is a time for momentous change and civic participation. It is also a time for those of us in positions of power to act. As Majority Leader of the State Senate, I am proud of the legislation my colleagues and I passed this week: repealing 50-A, banning choke holds, and codifying the AG as Special Prosecutor, among other important acts. Change is necessary, and now is the time.”

– New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins & Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie


“George Floyd was murdered. It was not an accident or an overreaction to a moment. He was not resisting arrest. He did not have a weapon to threaten. His words were not a threat to those around him.… What we saw in that video should happen to no person. And it has happened before in other circumstances. We assert that this most recent case must be the end. It must be the last time that this happens.

“In Westchester County, in our home, we are committed as a county government to take action that is within our authority and within our jurisdiction. I am empaneling today a working group comprised of county and local police professionals — individuals who serve in our Human Rights Commission, on our police board, members of the African American clergy, justice activists — to review in detail all of the procedures and policies that are used by the county at our County Police Academy to train new police recruits and to provide in-service training for those that are already working in law enforcement, and to establish changes and reforms that are needed to make sure that every police officer, new or old, understands how we avoid and place implicit racism or any bias behavior in the conduct of their duties.”

– Westchester County Executive George Latimer


 

“Over fifteen hundred people have peacefully met over the past few days in Westchester to protest racial injustice. This reprehensible and intolerable conduct must end. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed racial and economic inequities in our society. These latest killings highlighted the pandemic of racism that the African American community faces on a daily basis.

“Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said a ‘riot is the language of the unheard.’  Protests were crucial in many civil rights struggles and advancements. Indeed, protests after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination led to the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act. While we agree that violence and looting are not acceptable, our focus must remain on listening to those who have been unheard for so long. This is a time to listen to marginalized communities and work to create changes to combat systemic racism.… Our community cannot be silent. We share a responsibility to come together, acknowledge racism and speak out against it.”

– Westchester County Human Rights Commission


“We had many officers marching directly with the crowd. On the second protest, I addressed the crowd and I took a knee in solidarity with the community about how we feel about George Floyd.…Not a single arrest was made, not a single piece of property was damaged, and not a single injury was reported.…My hat goes off to the police officers that showed such professionalism and restraint. My hat goes off to the protestors for respecting, saying what they had to say, venting what they had to vent, but at the same time lawfully and peacefully assembling. I really believe in these past couple of weeks, Yonkers could be a model for the rest of the country about how to do this.”

– Yonkers Police Commissioner John Mueller


 

“Because of the recent deaths and the unmistakable circumstance of murder by armed officers, George Floyd is now the catalyst for the change we have been waiting for since the Civil Rights Movement.

“Peekskill had riots in the ’60s because some oppressors didn’t want Paul Robeson to sing at the Paramount. Well, today, many white people have joined the Peekskill NAACP because they are ready to see change. Some of them may not even know what that means, but we are here to provide advice and direction so that together we can make effective change. It’s a new day and 2020 is demonstrating perfect vision among many, and it’s time to take action. Join us in the fight for equality. It’s time because WE ARE DONE DYING.”

– Valerie Eaton, President Peekskill NAACP


“The strain our country and the world has been under due to COVID-19 feels relentless. When you add the pain over recent weeks, after the egregious killing of George Floyd and countless other black and brown people, too many in our communities are suffering and experiencing trauma. As a legal services provider, we fight for equal justice for all. LSHV remains steadfast in our anti-racist commitment as we actively work toward equity by providing services to those in need no matter race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue to work within our communities and with our partners to dismantle the injustices of systemic racism. We hope you will stand with us as we continue this fight.”

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley


 

“We stand in solidarity with the Black community and grieve with Mr. Floyd’s family…. We know full well that this brutal murder is one in a long line of race related killings that have shaken our country…. We will not remain silent. We call upon our legislators at the national, state, and local levels to fundamentally change their approach to law enforcement and the justice system so that they serve and protect all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

The Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center

 

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