2007-01-05 / Columnists

It's My Turn

By City Councilman James Sanders, Jr.


This column was written as a response to an article entitled, "Sanders Conflicted on Police, Seeks A Plan To Fight Violence," which appeared on page 16 in the December 22 issue of The Wave.

Last week's Wave not only misquoted me on several issues, it also drew mistaken assumptions. I usually ignore these less than random mistakes, but at this time, I feel compelled to respond.

+ I never called for "increased policing."

+ Your interviewer did not give the whole quote when she accused me of hypocrisy.

+ I see no contradiction between being against aggressive policing while calling for assertive policing.

+ I marched with the New Black Panther Party and Rev. Al Sharpton and called for the police to revert back to .38 caliber pistols and fewer police.

+ I have marched against youth violence since 1997.

During my emergency meeting on December 22, 2006, I started the meeting by saying that the subject of policing was not on the table. The meeting focused on the government's responsibility and role in stemming the rising violence in the Rockaways.

Implicitly, I stated my faith in Captain Brian P. McMahon, the commander of the 101 Precinct. I do, however, call for smart policing (the wise use of resources including comstat data and "manpower') to stop this violence. I have shared my ideas with the captain and continue to monitor the results.

The quote that your interviewer takes out of context is whether it is hypocrisy to call on police to stem violence while criticizing the police. I believe that there is a need for assertive policing, not aggressive policing, therefore there is no contradiction. Let me explain what I mean by this distinction.

In a civil society, there must be only one law and all must abide by its rules. This means that elected officials and newspaper editors, laborers and lawyers, clergy and clerks, postal workers and police must obey the law. Anyone who disobeys with seeming impunity weakens the public trust.

The court system is designed to see if there are mitigating circumstances with apparent lawbreakers.

No thinking person should mistake criticism of alleged police abuse - for example in the case of my constituent Shaun Bell - as a wholesale condemnation of the police. Most police officers are courageous, hardworking and honest; those who dishonor this noble profession should - and must - not be tolerated.

Let me state it clearly: there must be one law in this country and all must follow it! One cannot break the law to enforce the law.

On the issue of whom I marched with and what I am calling for: I proudly marched with more than 40,000 people (including many of my constituents and the parents of Shaun Bell). Among those people were representatives of labor, clergy, civic, youth, women, and activists of all types. These justice seeking people were White, Black, Latino, Asian and Native Americans. Among these marchers were the New Black Panther Party and the march was call for by an incredibly broad gathering of our city's leaders (including myself).

I have never called for the Police Department to revert to the use of a .38 caliber pistol or for there to be a smaller police presence. I do recall the argument raised by police experts during the introduction of the 9 millimeter automatic that they currently use. These experts felt that having more bullets (a larger magazine) and faster trigger will result in more bullets being used in shootings. The jury - LITERALLY - is still out on this one.

It is heartening to know that the WAVE decries the tragic loss of young lives to violence. I, too, have felt - and feel - strongly about this horror. As far back as 1997 (way before I was elected) I led marches against this. You may recall the senseless slaying of Marie Medina, a tenant leader, in the Redfern Houses in 2001. Not only did I lead a march against the killings in Redfern, I was joined by Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels. Together, we raised approximately $6,000 for Ms. Medina's children. This shows that I will work with almost anyone to demand justice.

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