Brown, Garner deaths call attention to issue of police mistrust on LI

The Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have sparked a national debate about the issue of race. Some community leaders say those same racial tensions exist in their own backyards here on Long Island.

News 12 Staff

Dec 12, 2014, 3:25 AM

Updated 3,455 days ago

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Brown, Garner deaths call attention to issue of police mistrust on LI
The Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have sparked a national debate about the issue of race. Some community leaders say those same racial tensions exist in their own backyards here on Long Island.
Many minority communities across Long Island have echoed Amityville Pastor Vernon Shelton's belief that too often, black men are automatically perceived as criminals in the eyes of white officers. A police officer recently gave lessons to his congregants at Holy Trinity Baptist Church about how to stay safe while being pulled over.
"They are teaching us if we're pulled over what not to do. How to react if an officer is aggressive. What not to say," said Shelton.
That public mistrust bubbled to the surface after a video was released that allegedly shows two Nassau County officers beating a Westbury man while arresting him for marijuana possession. One officer was suspended and the charges against then 20-year-old Kyle Howell were later dropped.
"I don't think without a video anybody would've believed my son," said Joan Howell, Kyle's mother.
Suffolk County Police Inspector Gerard Gigante told News 12 Long Island that the public doesn't always have all the facts.
"Even with the video, you don't always have what happened in the minute or two before the video that led up to the altercation," said Gigante.
Police say they have a number of outreach programs to build relationships between their departments and the neighborhoods they patrol.
Reaching out to residents is a big part of Officer Elizabeth Butcher's job. For the past 22 years, she has been a community liaison officer with the 1st Precinct. Officer Butcher admits that even as an African-American officer, her uniform and badge were once a barrier in forming trust.
"Those bonds were formed over many years of them knowing that they could trust me. That wasn't an overnight thing," Butcher told News 12.
Unlike New York City, there is no type of civilian complaint review board on Long Island. All complaints against police in both Nassau and Suffolk counties are investigated by the police departments themselves.


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