How police protect and serve the public, especially communities of color, is one of the most contentious issues in our country. While the debate rages on, the NYPD has been making moves to make sure all city residents get the same protection. But have they gone far enough?
There was outrage on the streets for months after the 2014 illegal police chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, followed a few weeks later by the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown halfway across the country.
With frustrations at a boiling point, two NYPD officers were shot and killed in uniform. In an exclusive interview, Police Commissioner James O’Neill told me the tragedies became a turning point. “It was a very difficult time to be a police officer, with the demonstrations every day, Liu and Ramos were brutally assassinated on December 20th,” O’Neill said.
“It was a dark time for the NYPD. I think it was a dark time for the city and I think it was a dark time for the nation, too.”
Public outrage over racial profiling and excessive force intensified with federal scrutiny and outside investigations. That ramped up the pressure to make a drastic change, according to Charles Tucker Jr., a St. John’s University Law School professor.
“From a community standpoint, it represented an opportunity for the NYPD to be accountable,” Tucker said. “They’re looking for someone to be accountable in these instances.”
City Hall got that message. Since then, the mayor said every NYPD officer has been retrained in de-escalation techniques, stop-and-frisk has dropped 93 percent, and complaints against officers have dropped to the lowest level in 15 years. All at the same time, serious crime is at the lowest numbers in decades. It is a “180” from the old “Us vs. Them” approach. The cornerstone is neighborhood policing.
“It’s not a political strategy, it’s a real policing strategy,” O’Neill said. “If you look at the old model of policing, if you were in a sector car, all you did was answer radio runs eight hours a day. You had no time to make a connection to anyone.”
Now it is all about the connection. And nowhere is that strategy more visible than in the Brooklyn North command, where officers routinely check in with local businesses and residents. Assistant Chief Jeffrey Maddrey said keeping people safe is the top priority, with community engagement a close second.
“What I tell my officers, is to be the first,” Maddrey said. “Be first to stick out your hand, and say hello, and shake a hand to greet people.”
O’Neill said neighborhood policing is not just about feeling good. It is a key part of their crime-fighting strategy, along with precision policing as opposed to wide-net sweeps, new investigative techniques, and improved technology. He said the new model is in keeping with the times.
“Giving the police officers discretion, the ability to make decisions, solve problems with the community — if anything that’s what I’m most proud of,” O’Neill said.
Police themselves have changed, with the majority being ethnic and racial minorities and more than half living in the five boroughs. But critics say in some areas, the police department needs to be more proactive in disciplining officers who cross the line.
Street Soldiers held a groundbreaking town hall to discuss these issues with rapper Fat Joe, NYPD Chief of Patrol Terence Monahan, Council Member Jumaane Williams, and Police Officer Eric Morales.
FEATURED CAST: LISA EVERS, Host and Executive Producer,
Street Soldiers https://twitter.com/lisaevers
COMMISSIONER JAMES O’NEILL, New York Police Department https://twitter.com/NYPDONeill
CHARLES TUCKER JR., Partner, Tucker Moore Law Group https://twitter.com/sirchase27 https://twitter.com/tuckerandmoore
He is a baby-faced teen rapper facing a death penalty murder case. But the 17-year-old artist known as Tay-K is quickly becoming one of the hottest sensations in hip hop and blurring the line between rap music and real life.
Tay-K’s real-life race was with the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force, which labeled him a violent fugitive. In late March, facing a murder charge as a juvenile, he hit the road. For three months, he was making music about being on the run while actually being on the run.
In my exclusive interview with his high-powered entertainment attorney, James McMillan told me Tay-K (https://twitter.com/TAYK47USA) is first and foremost a very young but focused artist.
“Clearly he took a risk by clipping his ankle bracelet and going on the run,” McMillan said. “But simultaneously he had the awareness to make a video and song at the same time.”
On June 30, 2017, the day he was captured by U.S. marshals in New Jersey, Tay-K’s manager released “The Race” song and video. It went viral, racking up more than 40 million views. The song is so popular it broke into the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
“This generation of kids, they’re really savvy about and aware of technology, and appearance,” McMillan said. “And how you can affect the world basically by the press of a button with one visual, one song.”
Taymor “Tay-K” McIntyre’s legal problems are much more complicated. He is charged along with six others in a home invasion that left a 21-year-old man dead. He is also reportedly implicated in another murder while on the run, as well as the brutal assault of a 65-year-old man. Former prosecutor and now a criminal defense attorney Charles Tucker Jr. said “The Race” video could be used in court and the gun play depicted in it especially could hurt his case. ”
Anytime you have a video that looks like it possibly could relate to criminal charges, obviously it’s not something you like to have a defendant involved in,” Tucker said.
Tay-K’s criminal attorney Trent Loftin told Street Soldiers: “Mr. McIntyre wholeheartedly denies these charges and allegations against him… and his entire legal team look forward to our future trial and maintain our innocence. We are certain when all of the evidence is presented, Mr. McIntyre will be exonerated.”
A judge ruled he must be tried as an adult, making the stakes that much higher.
“It’s now a death penalty case based on the serious charges that are now facing him in Texas,” Tucker said.
Whatever the outcome of his legal problems, Tay-K may already have made his mark as a part of a new age of gangsta rap, said Rob Markman, who just dropped his first EP “Write to Dream.” “It’s just in your face, there’s almost nothing poetic about it,” Markman said. “16-, 17-year-old kid, very jarring.”
It is possible rap could turn out to be Tay-K’s redemption. He has vowed that if he beats the charges, he will stop robbing and earn his money in legit ways. Right now behind bars, he is raking in about $2,000 a day from all the video views, his attorney said.
The recent violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, began with a protest by white nationalists over the planned removal of Confederate statues. They had a permit for their initial demonstration.
No matter how offensive their message of white male supremacy and neo-Nazi views were to many, they were within their rights, civil rights attorney Charles Coleman Jr. said.
“Under the Constitution and the First Amendment, there’s no distinction between what’s hateful speech and what’s loving speech, if you will,” he said.
The demonstration turned deadly when a white supremacist sympathizer drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring dozens of others.
“If speech is going to incite violence, that’s when you’ve crossed the line of it being illegal,” Coleman said. “You can’t advocate openly for violence against any particular group or person. That’s when you start going into the realm of what’s illegal speech.”
The white nationalists who displayed the Confederate flag, a symbol of slavery, were within their legal rights as private individuals. But the symbol still has a role in public institutions and government. It is part of the Mississippi state flag. Civil rights attorney Carlos Moore of the Tucker Moore Law Group is fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to have it removed.
“I do believe that the state or government actors should not be allowed to display images that celebrate slavery or advocate white supremacy,” Moore said. “I believe that crosses the line and that’s unacceptable.”
Coleman said he believes Charlottesville is not an isolated incident.
“Our ground has been fertilized to have this happen all over the country if we’re not careful,” he said.
So, can a distinction be made between free speech and hate speech? And if hate speech leads directly to violence, should it be banned? Street Soldiers host Lisa Evers poses those questions and more to a distinguished panel of contributors.
What do you think? Comment in the space below.
LISA EVERS, host of Street Soldiers
EVAN BERNSTEIN, New York regional director, Anti-Defamation League
CHARLES COLEMAN JR., civil rights attorney
FRED THE GODSON, hip hop artist
CARLOS MOORE, civil rights attorney
Street Soldiers host Lisa Evers, of Hot 97 and Fox 5, gathered a diverse and illustrious panel for the 2017 Push 4 Peace town hall in Brooklyn.
Lisa started the Push 4 Peace series seven years ago in Newark to address gun violence and always focused on positive alternatives for youth. This summer, Street Soldiers took a different twist: how hip hop can change our lives and our communities.
The pre-show event featured Street Soldiers DJ Michael Medium, refreshments, and even video gaming with the champion known as Hip Hop Gamer. While the crowd enjoyed the music, Lisa caught up with some of the celebrities on the red carpet, including Josh X and DMC.
Youth groups came out to Brooklyn Borough Hall to take in lessons learned and advice from our diverse panel, including Hot 97’s own DJ Enuff.
Lisa took questions and comments from the audience, too. There was a lot to learn about the positive power of music from our awesome panel.
Music producer Buda Da Future, hip hop legend DMC of Run-DMC, DJ Enuff of Hot 97, music journalist Sowmya Krishnamurthy, Brooklyn’s own rap star PHresher, and model/podcast host Jazzie Belle share the secrets of their success on this special episode of Street Soldiers
In June, Fox 5 went inside Rikers Island for an exclusive town hall with Fat Joe, inmates and the Department of Correction. We were shown the best. But we weren’t allowed to see a lot more.
A former inmate, now free on bail with an ankle bracelet, is awaiting trial for attempted murder. He told me they’re dehumanized from Day 1.
No one denies the do-or-die culture. COBA, the correction officers’ union, said slashings and stabbings of guards are increasing.
A Rikers Island correction officer is breaking his silence so people know what is really going on. He said the violence has to stop. Fox 5 is protecting his identity for his safety. He said an inmate stabbed him three times in the ear. The officer went back to work at Rikers after treatment, but he hasn’t been the same, he told us.
Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a 51-page report on how Rikers could be closed. Overpopulation is one factor in the violence. Another is inmate idle time. Job training programs like those in G.M.D.C. have certified more than 1,500 inmates, a fraction of the jail’s roughly 8,000 inmates.
Deputy Commissioner Winette Jackson said positive change takes time.
“A large part of our job, our mission, is to really help, correct and rehabilitate the individuals who are in the custody of the department,” she said.
The start of a culture shift is seeing some improvement in inmate-officer contacts in G.M.D.C. The programs are in demand. There aren’t enough to go around.
In a special episode of Street Soldiers, Lisa Evers is joined by Fat Joe for the first ever town hall inside Rikers Island with inmates and correction officers. Joe said he stays close to the community and did not hold back.
Rows on rows of razor barbed wire around the GMDC building on Rikers Island say “jail” bigger than any sign. Inside, a gated checkpoint secures the lockdown area. Fox 5 got an exclusive look inside the jail that is temporary home to about 400 men, ages 18 to 21. They’ve all been arrested but the vast majority of them have not yet had their day in court. For some detainees, time served on Rikers is their initiation into the prison pipeline. For a growing number of others, it is a wake-up call before it is too late.
“I went from a negative mindset to a positive mindset,” inmate Eric Patterson said. “Like I went from me thinking the world was against me to now I want to be part of the world. So I think that’s a step forward.” Patterson has earned several job certifications.
“It gave me an opportunity to find myself, because growth as an actor and growth as a human being is synonymous,” former inmate Trey Cruz said. He is a Stella Adler acting scholarship winner.
Inside this high-security facility over the last two years, the Department of Correction has been arming inmates with a variety of career skills so they won’t succumb to the negative influence of the streets once they get out. So far, about 1,500 former inmates left Rikers with job training. Deputy Commissioner Winette Jackson said it is an urgent priority.
“A large part of our job, our mission, is to really help, correct and rehabilitate the individuals who are in the custody of the department,” Jackson said.
Officer Goodloe brought us to the Peace Center, where a lot of the classes take place. Inside the center classrooms is a different world. These inmates are learning the basics of carpentry and getting OSHA certifications. They’ll be job-ready in background-friendly construction fields when they get out.
“As we see, we’re in a carpentry shop. For some of these young men it’s the first time they’ve produced something positive in their life,” said Denise Upshaw, the director of the DOC’s Trading Futures program.
“Our participants are one step closer to securing employment versus someone on the outside who doesn’t have a certification,” said Jermaine Pilgrim, the program director of industry recognized training at Rikers Island.
The special programming also includes digital literacy classes, culinary training, and the basics of car mechanics, taught by a former car repair shop manager who is now a correction officer.
“Majority of them, sadly, they’ve been told they can’t do nothing much, they’re nothing,” said Officer Caetano, the auto mechanic instructor. “But here I give them the confidence that they are able to learn.”
While the push is on for more programming at Rikers Island, the reality is that security remains a top priority. That means safety for the inmates and for the correction officers. From 2015 to 2016, violent incidents involving 18- to 21-year-old men dropped a whopping 58 percent. That coincided with the implementation of the new training programs.
“The data show us that approximately 80 percent of the individuals in our custody will be home within a year,” Deputy Commissioner Jackson said. “And if we don’t try to provide skills and services that assist individuals with the reasons why they came here to begin with, then we’re looking at a larger problem for our community.”
Keep in mind that about 80 percent of the inmates have been arrested, but not convicted of crimes.
Since 2015 the Correction Department has been under a federal court order to reduce the use of excessive force against inmates. But the correction officers union, COBA, said the emphasis on inmates’ rights has caused a dramatic spike in attacks against officers.