As violence has continued throughout the city, including a triple shooting in the Bronx last Monday that left a 19-year-old dead, the police held a town hall on Oct. 21 to address issues in the community.
Throughout the evening, residents discussed homelessness, illegal vendors and the need for better relationships with law enforcement. People attended in person, via Zoom and on Facebook.
“We don’t claim to have all the answers,” said Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. “In terms of violence in this city, nothing is more important to us. I think we do a darn good job at times. We are stronger when we work together.”
Michael Brady, executive director of the Third Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), asked the police what their role is in assisting homeless people and illegal street vendors. Since police reform took place in the summer, he said that it seems things had gotten worse.
“Many of the enforcement tools have been neutered by the mayor,” Brady said. “There’s no real enforcement entity to handle these crimes [illegal vendors.] We feel like we’re in limbo.”
Brady stressed that these problems do not just start and end with cops. There is housing scarcity, hunger, lack of educational resources and a concentration of substance use clinics throughout the borough.
Wilma Alonso, executive director of the Fordham Road BID, shared Brady’s concerns. Recently, Fordham Road had been flooded with people selling things without permits since the mayor took away police enforcement, she said.
According to the BID director, there are homeless and mentally ill people roaming the streets and many shootings and assaults. She questioned what the NYPD can do to remedy these problems.
Alonso said that whenever she called for help regarding the vendors or homeless people, she was told the NYPD can’t do anything.
“Businesses are struggling,” she said. “We have people going into businesses and beating up employees.”
NYPD Chief of Collaborative Policing Juanita Holmes, the highest ranking African-American female officer in NYPD history, addressed Alonso’s concerns.
She said in addition to contacting Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCOs), people need to reach out to their elected officials and the agencies that handle homelessness and illegal vendors. Those people “must be accountable and do their jobs.”
“We’re still the police; if it’s a safety concern, we will be there,” Holmes said.
Attendee Daniel Scott felt most crime was due to poverty and said that people don’t sell drugs or steal for fun, but rather out of necessity.
Scott also noted that most cops are good and should be praised for what they do.
“I really don’t think the majority of police officers wake up and say ‘I want to shoot an unarmed black man,’” Scott said.
Female Leader of the 80th District Irene Estrada also showed her support for the blue. She asked why the elected officials have blamed police for the spike in violence and said police can only do so much.
“I want to make sure the police know we are there for them,” she said. “How can we throw them under the bus and defund them?”
Activist Ramona Ferreyra spoke about the relationship between the NYPD and Bronx residents. She specifically wondered how people can feel safe on Election Day next week when the NYPD Police Benevolent Association endorsed President Trump, making it the only one to do so in the country.
Commissioner Shea addressed Ferreyra’s concerns, explaining that cops are mandated to be at polling sites.
“I don’t think anyone should judge by the color of their skin how they’re going to vote,” Shea explained. “When you put on this uniform there is no place for politics.”