Community Reaction To Police Tasings
Parts of Baltimore are smoldering after violent demonstrations last night, the latest in a string of flare-ups between protestors and police across the country. Closer to home, Albany Police are taking a close look at their use of stun guns after a second incident this month in which a black man suffered a medical issue after being Tased by police.
On April 2, 39-year old Donald "Dontay" Ivy died after an encounter with police near his Arbor Hill home after he was subdued with a stun gun. That incident is under investigation by the District Attorney.
The second tasing incident involved a 21-year-old city man, wanted by authorities, as he was taken into custody. Police say Jamarl Townsend was wanted for questioning in connection with an August 2014 shooting. Townsend was spotted in a vehicle last weekend in the 300 block of First Street. As an officer approached, Townsend allegedly exited the car and tried to run away. Police say he ignored warnings to stop and was subsequently tased. After being handcuffed, he experienced a seizure and became unresponsive but did regain consciousness prior to the arrival of EMS personnel.
Townsend’s sister, Ashante Boyd, tells NewsChannel 13 when her brother was tased he fell face first onto the pavement. "Understand you have to do your job, but you didn't have to tase him in his head."
Townsend was taken to Albany Med where he was treated and released. A gun recovered is believed to be connected to the 2014 shooting. Published reports indicate Townsend faces charges of resisting arrest and criminal possession of a weapon, along with a parole violation.
Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox did not respond to requests for comment from WAMC, but told the Times Union the medical examiner's report on Ivy's death has yet to be completed. The paper cited relatives as saying police stopped Ivy, who was mentally ill, because he had a pulled-down sleeve. They said Ivy produced identification, and was patted down by officers before the struggle began.
It was a setback for a department that has won widespread plaudits for its community policing initiatives in recent years. Alice Green is Executive Director at the Center for Law and Justice. "There is a great deal of fear and mistrust still, on the street. We have to change policies and approaches to dealing with the people that come in contact with police."
District Attorney David Soares’ office did not return a call for comment.
Cox was to have met Monday with Dr. Michael Dailey, medical director for city of Albany public safety, and a physician at Albany Med to review the Townsend tasing incident to see if there was anything that should be addressed in training.
An Albany police spokesman said that officers have the option of experiencing the tase themselves if they wish. Again, Green. "Perhaps it makes sense to, and I think others are calling for, sort of a moratorium on the use of tasers until further research can be done to tell us how to make the use of tasers safer."
The Albany cases parallel national concern over the relationship between police and African Americans. Community advocate Marlon Anderson doesn't see Albany experiencing type of violence that hit Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. "Baltimore and the national conversation that must be had on this issue is a horse of a different color than what's going on in the Capital Region. I believe that it's long overdue for Congressional hearings and Congressional action on this continuing police violence. People are dying, and now cities are burning. This is a national concern. What happened to Freddie Gray in Baltimore is as heinous as a lynching. To have your spine broken, to die. And nobody knows any information? We know that he went into the police van alive."
Green says the Baltimore effect is likely to impact the Albany community - but not in the way you might think. "What's going on nationally is causing African American males a great deal of stress and concern. We're trying to, in the Center for Law and Justice, work with the community in terms of doing more legal rights education, calling for a different approach in terms of the war on drugs so that people are not as fearful and we're not wanting to incarcerate people at every move. I think the department is aware of some of those issues and is trying to come up with different policies and approaches. And the community now, because it has been involved in community policing and sees itself as a partner, recognizes that it has to work with the department to really identify problems and come up with solutions.”
Anderson, who has been relentless in his advocacy to inspire dialog to bring about social change on the local level, is meeting Friday with Cox and Mayor Kathy Sheehan, in advance of a community discussion Saturday at the Arbor Hill branch of the Albany Public Library.