Earlier this month, the Center for Law and Justice in Albany published a report on structural racism and public safety in the city. Among other things, the report calls upon four city leaders to acknowledge the existence of structural racism in the police department.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Police Chief Eric Hawkins, Common Council President Corey Ellis and Albany County District Attorney David Soares were each given a set of specific recommendations in a 15-page document released by the Center. Executive Director Dr. Alice Green says the report comes as a follow-up to and result of the organizations' 2019 Albany Community Policing Survey, which she says was all but ignored by government officials.
"I think the issues that we raised are very difficult ones, racism, structural racism in particular, is very difficult for people to understand and to figure out how to deal with it.
And I think trust is another issue. I think maybe law enforcement are deceiving themselves. But I think they believe, really do, that most people in the community trust them. And we found that people were saying, you know, the opposite, because there are issues around transparency and racism that they don't believe has been dealt with. And people in the communities I've worked with, see that they're treated differently. And that is because of the racism that's embedded in our system."
Green says community policing has failed. The new report's recommendations/goals for the four leaders include acknowledging the existence of structural racism in the police department, and that structural racism be deemed a public health crisis in the city. Green says all four received a copy of the report and a letter inviting response.
"In a couple of weeks or so, we will send them another letter and asking them specifially 'What do you think about the actions that we are asking you to take?' Because each, each official has been asked to do something that we think would would help us deal with the issues of racism, and trust and community policing, which we think is a major one. So if you don't trust you don't engage in community policing on both ends. So we will be asking them that. And then every two weeks, we will ask them to, to respond to any other questions that we might have. And it will be posted on our website so that the public can see over these next six months, how our public officials are responding to the things We asked them to do, the actions that we asked them to take on dealing with those issues of racism, community policing in particular."
"There have been injustices that have resulted in the inequity that we see, both implicit and explicit racism, redlining, all of the things that we see in our city we recognize, have stemmed from the injustices that Alice and her center have been fighting for for years and years."
Chief Hawkins says he's had his hands full with the pandemic but did take a look at the report:
"Anytime there's I think we have to be open minded when there's criticisms of operations when there's personal criticisms. And because I think that there can be some positives that are taken out of that. And at the very least, it It forces if people are open minded to criticism, it forces people in organizations to consider and be aware of different perspectives. And that's my takeaway at this point. There's a perspective out there that I don't necessarily agree with. I think that there is that I think that it's weighted too far too much in the negative when we're looking at this. And I don't think that highlight it, if we're talking community policing and bringing the community together, I think, you know, a few even have fair criticisms. I think it's also in order to have some balancing report that it should also highlight the many, many good things and the many positive things that are happening in the community as well."
Common Council President Corey Ellis:
COREY "You know, Ms. Green, her organization is an advocacy organization. And so it's within her right and in her organizations, right to advocate for things they see when it comes to law and justice. I've met with them previously, about when they issued this report. And I told her in my capacity, I'd like to do it through our channels of government. And at the time, you know, we had a public chair, which I wanted to go through the public safety committee and have them review it. At the time the public chair safety committee determined public, the chair of public safety didn't take it up. I don't know why, at the time that the chair didn't take it up. But for me, dealing with any document like this, I'd like to go through our structure as we do have a public safety committee. And that way the public and everybody else can hear and weigh in on it. So And I was never opposed to doing that. It's just it wasn't my call to make the public safety chair hold that meeting on the under report."
D.A. Soares’ office emailed a statement in response to a request for comment, which says in part:
"We are of course aware that structural racism exists and the impact that it has on our entire society... The mission of the Albany County District Attorney is to protect victims, fragile communities, and to implement reforms where needed. In 20 years of service to Albany County I have never received an inquiry about a victim of crime from the Center for Law and Justice. As they know, a seat is open and waiting for them at our next Felony Youth Diversion Board meeting."