Report From RIRA Publc Safety Committee Chair - February 16 Roosevelt Island Public Safety Protest Demonstration And Beyond
RIRA Public Safety Chair Erin Feeley-Nahem at 2/16 Roosevelt Island Public Safety Demonstration
Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) President Ellen Polivy delegated the RIRA President's Report to Public Safety Committee Chairperson Erin Feeley-Nahem. Here's the RIRA Report from Ms. Feeley-Nahem:
Saturday, February 16 was an historic day on Roosevelt Island. In one of the largest protest actions in our Island's history, some three hundred residents gathered and picketed for change in the Good Shepherd Plaza. A rally followed, inside the Church, where an amazing program was heard highlighting personal accounts from survivors of Public Safety brutality, abuse, and constitutional rights violations. The day's activities received widespread media attention.The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Operations Committee will be meeting tomorrow to discuss issues involving the Public Safety Department.
What was unique, as pointed out by Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in his remarks to the audience, was the broad and diversified audience in attendance, reflecting the variety of nationalities, peoples, cultures, ages, and genders which is indicative of our Roosevelt Island community.
The bulk of the allegations of Public Safety misconduct that has been brought to my attention, during my terms as the RIRA Public Safety Committee Chair, has been largely directed at Black, Latino, and Caucasian youth and young adults. However, as evidenced by the accounts heard at the rally, Public Safety Officer's aggressive behavior has been alleged by residents regardless of race, gender, age, or social class. The compelling lineup of witnesses telling their stories on Saturday, and the video shown, was eloquent testimony to this fact.
The Public Safety Committee's members are brainstorming on our next steps. All are in agreement that the momentum must continue and that for concrete progress our demand for changes in the leadership of the PSD and for the termination of Officer Ralph Torrens, who is alleged to have assaulted Anthony Jones, must be our top priority. We believe that this can be accomplished, and action should be taken toward this end immediately, by the RIOC Board.
After the February 16th rally and the clear, longstanding pattern of abuse presented (which are concretely supported by a number of lawsuits on file) we feel that there is sufficient smoke filling the air to be alarmed, and to realize that there is a fire. In today's post-Anthony Jones, post-rally, reality and political atmosphere, if Director Guerra and Deputy Director Bryan remain at their posts the RIOC Board risks being discredited and seen by Island residents as an obstacle to progress and part of the problem. I personally do not want to see this happen. The community has worked hard for the partial democratic representation for Island residents that the elected RIOC board personifies. We would all prefer to see RIOC get in front of this problem and do the right thing. A whole range of challenges are facing Roosevelt Island, for example with the coming of the Cornell Campus; how do we maintain our essential working-class and middle-class character in the face of these changes? It will be much harder to move forward and confront these challenges if the political obstacle of misconduct within the PSD is not addressed.
RIOC is the employer of the Public Safety Department. The RIOC Board is responsible for their oversight. Management contracts and "at will" employment can be legally terminated and replacements found. Let us recall the firing of Steven Shane. Without taking any position on the form and content of that decision, the point is that the decision was made. Whatever Shane's weaknesses or faults, and I would include among them a knee-jerk mentality of dismissing or downplaying the Public Safety Department's misconduct, the allegations of Public Safety Department's use of "excessive force" under the Guerra-Bryan regime, which has resulted in an outcry from a united group of residents, warrants comparable action.
As an Executive Director of a non-profit agency, I understand the RIOC Board's hesitation to add to the already vacant senior management positions. But this is a burning issue and fears of a lasting vacuum are misplaced. In reality there are many "qualified" persons who would love to serve a low-crime, urban-village community like ours.
The Public Safety Committee is determined to find solutions moving forward. I have discussed the idea of amending Micah Kellner's Assembly Bill A00956 with Tony Morenzi, Micah's New York Chief of Staff. By limiting the State oversight it addresses, and focusing it exclusively on Roosevelt Island's Peace Officers, a simpler bill is created, which will be easier to pass.
We collected almost 300 signatures on a petition at the rally, and plan on collecting more. This petition will be sent to our elected officials, with a follow up letter, as we continue to direct our concerns to them. Our committee will also not let up on the pressure we have initiated toward RIOC or change our demands for justice.
It has been announced that the RIOC Operations Committee will meet to review Public Safety's reports and response to the Board's questions on Monday, February 25th at 5:30 pm. It is imperative that all residents attend. We also encourage you to attend our future committee meetings, and if you have stories to tell, that you document them on our Facebook page, "Roosevelt Island Citizens Blotter" or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Committee and the Survivors would like to express our thanks to all our neighbors who showed solidarity and support of this cause. If we stay united and focused we will win.
More on the February 16 demonstration here and two RIOC Directors respond here.