Councilman Gjonaj holds a unity town hall in the wake of heighten tensions between police and citizens

A screenshot of the Unity Town Hall held by CM Mark Gjonaj on June 11.
Screenshot from video

As relations between the police and citizens have heightened in the past two weeks, one elected official did his best to address this crisis by bringing law enforcement, lawmakers and residents together.

On June 11, Councilman Mark Gjonaj and Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo of Brooklyn held a unity town hall. They were joined by Pastor Jay Gooding, president of the 49th Precinct Clergy Council, Lisa Sorin, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, Bob Bieder, president of the 45th Precinct Community Council, Joe Thomson, president Precinct Community Council, Monique Johnson, president NYCHA Throggs Neck Resident Council, Cathy McFadden, vice president NYCHA Pelham Parkway Resident Council, Reverend Marilyn Oliver, president NYCHA Middletown Road Plaza Tenant Association and other NYPD and community board representatives.

Gjonaj and Cumbo stressed that the rioting and looting needed to end as do the way people of color are treated by police.

“We cannot afford to have anyone turn a blind eye or stick their head into the sand as to what is happening around us, Gjonaj said. “We know that education is part of the problem we have. I don’t know of a single officer who has not come out against the George Floyd murder. “We have the groundwork to make a better society. Cutting the budget to the NYPD is not going to solve the underlying issues.”

Cumbo shared Gjonaj’s sentiments. She stressed that the NYPD needs to transparent and held accountable for its actions. But questioned what the NYPD should look like going forward.

Like Gjonaj, Cumbo agreed that defunding the cops is not the answer. She stressed that racists cops need to be removed and at the same time, the education in NYC must be looked at.

“We recognize that on many levels the education in inner cities has failed the communities,” she explained. “We still have one of the most segregated school systems. I want to leave this city a better place than I found it.”

Al D’Angelo, the chairman of Community Board 11, felt that everyone blamed the police and there were two sides at fault here. He did not justify the murder of George Floyd, but said that all of the rioting and looting was uncalled for and the police were doing their jobs.

While he agreed things must change, he stressed the inner cities have been filled with violence, crime and drugs for many years.

“All of a sudden the police are being scapegoated,” he said. “These elected officials have done absolutely nothing. Why don’t elected officials put their heads together and do something about that.”

Johnson is not on the same page as the chairman. She told the attendees that many people have racism embedded in them.

She said that the people in the Throggs Neck Houses and the Bronx need to find better ways to interact with the police, but added that the onus also falls on the brothers in blue.

“This isn’t something that’s going to be fixed in a day, a month or even a year,” Johnson stressed. “As a community leader, it’s my job to educate and mobilize the residents. People look at the police and think they are the boogeyman.”

McFadden said people in Pelham Parkway have a good relationship with the cops but the education is poor. She believed because of poor schools, children make bad choices like getting pregnant and causing trouble.

“Here in Pelham nobody speaks to each other,” McFadden said. “Our biggest problem here is disconnect. It’s babies having babies. We need funding for our school system.”

Sorin told the panel that prior to the rioting and desecration of stores, she felt the Bronx was heading in the right direction. After being on fire in the 70s and left for dead, the borough was finally trending upward, she said.

She questioned how a place that already struggles financially, is filled with food deserts and that was hit hard by COVID-19, burn and loot its own businesses.

Sorin added that since the media is covering all of the negative things in the Bronx, she hopes the situation will change soon.

“The press never set foot in our borough unless it’s something like this,” she said. “I’m concerned the Bronx was on an uphill swing and now it’s almost like it rolled back down hill. I don’t want us to get the perception of what we saw on TV.”

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