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County Executive Latimer announces formation of a working group to review all procedures and policies that are used by County Police Academy to train new police recruits and for in-service training.

The group, comprised of police, County’s Human Rights Commission members, County Police Board members, African-American clergy and justice advocates, will be tasked with recommending reforms that are needed to ensure all police officers understand how to avoid implicit racism or any bias behavior in the conduct of their duties.

Rush transcript:

Good afternoon. My friends and neighbors in Westchester County, I speak to you today in this most difficult and challenging time, a time in which we're all being tested for our stamina and our perseverance as Americans - and as individuals. We are working through the largest pandemic of our lifetime, including significant loss of life right here in our home County. We are working through an economic crisis for individuals, for businesses, for governments, nonprofits, religious institutions, everyone who has seen our strong economy collapse, at least for the time being, in just a matter of weeks. And now we are tested further by a crisis of the soul, the murder of George Floyd, and what that means for our society and what that means for our future.

Let's take this matter in separate pieces.

Firstly. George Floyd was murdered. It was not an accident or an overreaction to a moment. He was not resisting arrest. He did not have a weapon to threaten. His words were not a threat to those around him.

If you want to understand what happened in that moment. Place your fist underneath your chin, along your neckline. Take your other hand and press it alongside your face. Imagine it's rough asphalt pavement. The slight pressure of your fist shows you how much pain could be created by an athletic man placing his full weight through his boot, onto your neck. You would gasp for air. You might call out your mother's name in agony. And against that, asphalt payment you would die.

Derek Chauvain, by all accounts, a tough guy in the uniform of a police officer, filled that boot with pressure and he squeezed the life out of George Floyd.

It was unnecessary force. Every professional police officer would tell you that handcuffed and subdued on the ground, he'd have been raised up to lean against the car, not kept on the pavement. Other officers stood and watched and did nothing to stop this. They dishonored the badge and the uniform that they used to wear; now fired, they face a more severe prosecutorial review. Full accountability is called for. The Minnesota Attorney General is tasked with bringing those charges.

But what we saw in that video should happen to no person. And it has happened before in other circumstances. We assert that this most recent case must be the end. It must be the last time that this happens.

In Westchester County, in our home, we are committed as a county government to take action that is within our authority and within our jurisdiction. I am empaneling today a working group comprised of County and local police professionals, individuals who serve in our Human Rights Commission, on our police board, members of the African-American clergy, justice activists, to review in detail all of the procedures and policies that are used by the County at our County Police Academy to train new police recruits and to provide in-service training for those that are already working in law enforcement, and to establish changes and reforms that are needed to make sure that every police officer, new or old, understands how we avoid and place implicit racism or any bias behavior in the conduct of their duties. 

Our County Police Commissioner Thomas Gleason. Deputy Commissioner Terence Raynor will both be a part of this effort in this working group. Also in this group will be Mayo Bartlett, Esq., a prominent African-American lawyer, and Leroy Frazier, also an African-American, a former prosecutor and investigator, as key participants, along with a diverse group of residents. Their work will culminate in a report with specific recommendations within 30 days, that we would intend to implement, that will help us utilize best practices and send a clear message that our law enforcement community will be at the forefront of reform. That George Floyd shall not have died in vain, that his death will have meaning in the change that it fosters.

The County's Human Rights Commission, under the leadership of Reverend Doris Dalton, her members and Executive Director Tajesh Sanchala are beginning a process to create a series of conversations County-wide that will involve individuals virtually for now, in person as soon as that is possible, to discuss the issues that underlie this racism and to talk through tour diversity and our experiences to try to get a greater understanding for a greater number of people of how we go forward as a Country, but more importantly, as a County.

I've often spoken of my youth in this County growing up on the south side of Mount Vernon as a white youth in a predominately black neighborhood. I saw racism at work, but it wasn't directed at me, but it was real and it was palpable. No white man can understand what a black man feels or experiences, any more than a man can understand the harassment of a woman. The way people of one background treat people who are different.

For the black community, it is even more. Chattel slavery for 150 years on this continent; Jim Crow segregation and prejudice for another 100 years. And for the last 50 years, still a combination of small indignities and the prejudices of everyday living. The economic prejudices that are unexpressed with violence to the person, but the violence of institutions and bureaucracies. No government can wipe out human prejudice, prejudice taught from the baby's bassinet, it's nurtured over the years through a society. But we must be found on the side of racial justice in the final analysis. President Lyndon Johnson, in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, said on national television for the first time, an American president “We shall overcome,” a Southerner in the White House using the words of the protest marches of that day to signify efforts to end racial barriers. Fifty years later, with certain progress made, we are still a long way away from completing that task.

I realize now I will not live to see that completion, but we must continue on that path.

We honor George Floyd’s death by bringing his murderer to justice. We honor his sacrifice by making our police policies refreshed and new again. And we salute the many men and women who honor that badge every day and protect us and perform to the highest level of services. Those men and women of law enforcement are not guilty. But those who practiced their task with a prejudice and a hatred are guilty.

Across Westchester yesterday, in New Rochelle, in Hastings, in Peekskill, in Ardsley, men and women marched and rallied and met to protest to call for new policies. They met in peace. Within the bounds of civil discourse in a free democracy. They conducted themselves with honor. And the police who worked alongside of them did so as well with honor. I'm proud of that Westchester.

On our television sets across the County, some acted with dishonor. They used the tragedy of George Floyd to compound tragedy by burning buildings and worse, using the opportunity to loot and to obtain consumer goods. They burned out the stores of black businessmen who operate in their community. And they gave license to those who would repress dissent with a heavy hand by their own use of violence.

I don't doubt that there were agent provocateurs in the crowds. Those of both extremes. The far right as well as the far left who want to see our civil society collapse. Some of them want a “boogaloo” war, or anarchy.

We state in firm terms, we make no bargain with those who would destroy our lives and our property as wanton lawbreakers. They are not protesting injustice - they are advancing a selfish desire for chaos. We stand firm against that chaos.

There was righteous anger built up over years. There is a desire to exact some penalty for crimes that stretch far beyond the murder of George Floyd. We cannot undo the evil that was done in past years, but we can right the ship and we can do what is right - right now.

For what is the alternative? To battle on and to bloody each other? To allow this democracy, which is flawed but substantial, descend into madness, to descend into anarchy. Or turn it over into the control of totalitarians who wish to make a subject to their rule?

We will simply not let that happen.

By force of will and through the grace of an almighty God. We will right what is wrong. We will find justice and we will do so peacefully by the rule of law, not by the rule of the streets. We will overcome this pandemic disease. We will right our economy and bring back a true fair prosperity that benefits us all. And we will prove once again that democracy and debate and disagreement is not weak. It is strong. It is more powerful than bullets and Molotov cocktails. We will prove it so that our children amongst us today, as they grow and as they remember the spring of 2020, they will remember it as a time that we, their parents, saved this country as sure as their grandparents saved this democracy during the years of depression and World War.

We will do this, my friends. Have faith. And say a prayer.