Clergy Look Forward After Grand Jury

BY JORDAN GIBBONS

After last week’s grand jury decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, New York City saw a repeat of that decision in the Staten Island grand jury tasked with determining if Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who placed a chokehold that led to the death of Eric Garner, should go to trial.

Protestors throughout the City rallied again in response to another Black man who was killed by a NYPD officer, which is another case in a long list of names, including Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Anthony Baez, Amadou Diallo and most recently, Akai Gurley.

But, the Garner killing was vastly different than the countless others that have occurred in the City because it was caught on camera. Unfortunately, for those who were seeking justice for Garner’s death, the camera footage did not give them the result they were looking for.

Now, communities of color throughout the City are searching for ways to move forward and progress within a system they do not trust.

Several Southeast Queens religious leaders have voiced their reactions to Wednesday’s decision to the Press of Southeast Queens to help provide perspective in a complicated situation.

“We have to work through this whole thing to become a better City,” the Rev. Floyd Flake said.

The former Congressman, now the senior pastor at Greater Allen AME Church, noted that he did not believe the verdict was fair, and that he hoped Commissioner Bill Bratton would make the necessary changes to improve police relations with the community.

“The most significant change is to make sure police understand that they are part of the citizenry,” he said. “They must learn to apply the law equally.”

Flake also said that people must make sure that crime does not take over the community.

“Things are better now, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, not just with the police department, but with the whole community,” he said.”

The Rev. Phil Craig of Greater Springfield Community Church said that he does not condone any of the violence that occurred after the Ferguson decision and that everyone needs to work together to find ways to prevent these events from happening.

“We just need to discuss racism period and not allow these incidents to define America,” he said. “We need to have an understanding to get past all this mess. And we need to rely on praying and peace.”

The Rev. Chuck Norris of Communities United for Church Empowerment also spoke out against violence, but he does expect the Black community to voice their opinions through a variety of methods.

“I would hope that the Mayor and Police Commissioner stand up for this community in Staten Island,” he said. “We’re patient people and we’ll patiently wait to see where the changes come from. We may do some marching in the streets and we may do some boycotting to show that our dollars mean something, like our lives mean something.”

Norris also said that Pantaleo should be fired for what happened and he was saddened that there was no indictment with the amount of evidence against the officer.

“I’m really hurt by the action taken by that grand jury,” he said. “It was a travesty of justice.”

The Rev. Edward Davis of the Presbyterian Church of St. Albans said he was involved in a rally in the Rockaways the night of the grand jury decision and added that the community should voice their displeasure by seeking changes both in the NYPD and in the prosecutor’s office.

“The community moving forward would have to coalesce around policy change; police instructional changes and changes through elections,” he said. “All of that needs to be restructured in the light of all people, not black and white. It needs to be independent policy change.”

Reach Reporter Jordan Gibbons at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 123, jgibbons@queenspress.com or @jgibbons2.

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