I’ve gotten a good amount of feedback on last week’s blog message which ended with a call to “cut off the blood supply” of structural racism by personally taking steps to demand accountability from the institutions that support it. I wrote:

A good place to start is with your local police department. The police are the primary enforcers of structural racism and they are very serious about that aspect of their job. Your local police department must be held accountable for the practices they engage in. But the powers that be will not listen so long as the funding continues to flow into their coffers. Demand accountability. Demand that they provide data about whom they arrest and adjudicate and why.

I’m against urging people to do things that I am not willing to do myself. I’m also looking to ask people to do positive things and take a pass on doing things that are unlikely to work out well. Which is why I’m relieved that my wife, Ruthanne, pointed out that the line in my initial draft that urged people to go to their police department and demand to be arrested for aiding and abetting structural racism failed on one or both of those counts.

My thinking there, by the way, is that police have been arresting people for insignificant things such as jaywalking or exposing small amounts of marijuana to view but where are the arrests for the significant crimes committed by white people? Billions of dollars were stolen from homebuyers by people offering bad loans but where were the arrests of those people? The support of people who look like me (what I meant by “aiding and abetting’) of the apparatus of structural racism has caused far more harm than acts such as crossing in the middle, standing around on their own doorsteps, or lighting up a joint. More arrests for more justifiable reasons would at least bring a little balance to the situation.

From the police’s (and probably general public’s) point of view, however, such a demand would come across as a stunt – an insincere expression that would most likely sour my chances of building an
effective partnership for change. So instead of demanding to be arrested I took a less intense approach. I visited my local police station in Ossining, New York and asked to speak with the community relations officer about the department’s plans to address structural racism in policing. The voice on the other end of the intercom noted that Ossining PD doesn’t have a community relations person, but that he would ask a supervisor to come out and speak with me.

A few minutes later a Sergeant walked over and we had a chat. He asked if I had reviewed the department’s website because the Chief of Police, Kevin Sylvester, had just put out a response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signing of bills that aim to bring greater transparency on police disciplinary records and make use of chokeholds a felony. The Sergeant also said that the Chief would be happy to speak with me personally and that I might consider speaking with the Village Counsel as well.

I must say that I walked away feeling encouraged. Ossining PD has seemed, by the way, to be quite reform-minded under the leadership of Chief Sylvester who is, I believe, the youngest police chief in
Westchester County. They were early adopters of body worn cameras, were the only department out of the 42 departments in the county to have all of their staff receive anti-bias training, they have an official Civilian Police Complaint Review Board, and have been working to incorporate President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommendations.

I promised to review the website and made a plan to contact the Chief.

Google Search turned out to be only a little helpful. The police department page on the Village of Ossining website came up as “Under Construction.” The department does have a Facebook page and on it was a message from the Chief that although the department has been following the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign demands, they have now written them into their policies. I also found strong statements condemning institutional racism from the Village Council and the Mayor. And there was a notice that the Village was looking to fill a vacancy on the Civilian Police Complaint Review Board – so I sent in an

One thing I failed to mention earlier is that I don’t actually live in the Village of Ossining but rather live in the Unincorporated section of the Town of Ossining. The area that is now known as Ossining was purchased from an indigenous group called the Sint Sinck by Frederick Phillipse – a merchant who became exceptionally wealthy through his participation in slave trading and provisioning sugar
plantations. A British Loyalist, his lands were confiscated when the colonists defeated the British.

Years later the Village of Sing Sing was incorporated and some years after that the village changed its name to Ossining to separate itself from the notoriety of the prison which was built there in 1826.

So yes, I live in a town that was formed by displacing indigenous people, fortified through the forced labor of enslaved people, and home to the notorious Sing Sing prison. And I live in the mostly white Unincorporated part of town. That’s a lot of legacy to deal with.

And living outside of the village complicates my efforts as I don’t get to vote for the Village’s officials, so my next stop is the Ossining Town Supervisor’s office. I’ll let you know how that works out.

Bart Worden

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Please note, this post originally appeared at aeu.org.