CB8's public safety committee has no teeth


North Bronx Racial Justice, a coalition of local community groups, faith organizations and individuals, has been very concerned about the New York Police Department’s beating of a Bronx teen in Marble Hill in October, and subsequent comments about the incident by 50th Precinct commanding officer Terence O’Toole.

When asked for his reaction to the 13 blows to the head sustained by Alfred Burns during his Oct. 6 arrest, Mr. O’Toole — as reported by The Riverdale Press — said, “He’s a scourge on the Bronx at 16 years old. He is going to fight with police for the rest of his life, guaranteed. And the next cop that he encounters may have to shoot him because he is going to fail to comply. Because this is going to be his lifestyle forever.”

Mr. O’Toole went on to threaten to arrest a young woman who can be heard screaming in a videotape of the October incident, for “inciting a riot,” a remarkable statement that we interpret as an attempt to intimidate the public.

In our grave concern about both the incident and Mr. O’Toole’s comments, our coalition met with Councilman Andrew Cohen, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, and two staff people with the city’s public advocate office. We made our concerns known at the December meeting of Community Board 8, and at a meeting that month of the Benjamin Franklin Club, at which Mr. O’Toole was an invited speaker.

We made a report to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, distributed a public statement on the matter, garnered 180 local signatures on a petition calling for a number of steps to be taken, and published op-eds and letters to the editor in this paper.

Most recently, we sought and were granted time to speak at the Jan. 16 meeting of the CB8 public safety committee which, parenthetically, we were concerned to learn meets without fail each month at the 50th Precinct. In sharing our views (as Mr. O’Toole and other officers with the 50th looked on), we requested that the committee investigate both the Oct. 6 arrest and Mr. O’Toole’s subsequent comments.

We also requested that the committee echo our call for an independent investigation of both, outside of the query into the beating being conducted by the internal affairs bureau of the NYPD.

When we asked when we could expect a response and follow-up to our requests from the committee, chair Mary Yamagata said the committee would not comply with either request. She provided no explanation. When asked for a description of the committee’s work and purview, and of its relationship and role vis-à-vis the 50th Precinct, Ms. Yamagata told us to stop asking questions, stating that only she would ask questions.

When we objected to this, saying that we have been taxpaying residents of CB8 for decades and believe that we live in at least a nominal democracy, Ms. Yamagata responded that the public safety committee’s work “involves public safety,” and again told us to cease asking questions.

We share this report with fellow readers of The Riverdale Press in the hope and belief that local government can function better than this — that it can be appropriately responsive to the community, and that it can be appropriately independent of local entities with enormous vested power, such as the 50th Precinct of the NYPD.

Presumably, CB8 and its public safety committee are empowered to have some meaningful interaction with the 50th, including some expectation of accountability to the community. 

No independence or accountability was on display on Jan. 16.

We reiterate our request that the public safety committee and Community Board 8 as a whole conduct their own investigation of the Oct. 6 arrest and beating of Alfred Burns, and of the subsequent statements by Commanding Officer O’Toole — statements that put a target on a teenager’s back, and sought to suppress public reactions to police brutality.

We also recommend and request that the public safety committee meet in a variety of locations, and not always at the 50th Precinct.

The author is writing on behalf of North Bronx Racial Justice.

Jennifer Scarlott,