Part 2 of a 5-Part Series on the Lack of Accountability in Government in Mount Vernon
The cornerstone of a government is the length to which it goes to protect the weakest and most vulnerable of its citizens. Often, that responsibility falls to a government’s law enforcement divisions. It’s a hard job, to be sure. And, it’s an important one. Because, if those charged with protecting us are actually harming us, the entire edifice of government comes crashing down. So, they have a monumental responsibility.
What do we make of a government whose police department is out of control? What do we say about a government whose police department fails to protect the weakest and most vulnerable? What can we say when it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish our so-called protectors from the perpetrators they claim to be protecting us from? At what point do we hold those in City Hall accountable for the harm being done to our citizens by its own police force?
Aggravated battery, attempted murder, violent sexual assault, conspiracy, drug dealing, perjury, choking and abusive treatment sounds like the rap sheet of a master criminal, right? Nope. That list is just a small taste of the allegations that have been made against members of the Mount Vernon Police Department in the past two years. Add to that list such charges as unlawful detention, wrongful arrest, forced strip searches, brutal attacks on handcuffed prisoners, falsified court testimony, being in league with drug dealers, and coercive tactics to keep fellow officers silent. Sounds like a police department that is out of control to me.
In a society increasingly focused on police brutality and excessive use of force against Black folks, this kind of day-to-day victimization of citizens cannot continue to go on. However, if you live in Mount Vernon you know that it can, and it does. When your Mayor and your elected leaders headline rallies wearing t-shirts that read “We Can’t Breathe,” you wouldn’t expect this behavior to exist in their police forces, right? Well it does. When your Mayor appoints new personnel specifically to stamp out this kind of brutal policing, it can’t be possible that this still goes on, exonerating this kind of citizen abuse, right? Well, you know the answer. It can, and it does.
Mount Vernon has a policing problem for sure, but its real problem stems from a lack of leadership. MVPD went off the rails under the prior administration when the then-Mayor let his main political supporter put on a badge and drive around in a City-bought SUV as “Deputy Police Commissioner.” He let that guy blare his siren, push people around, and intimidate them into following the Mayor’s chosen agenda. The Mayor’s irresponsible lack of judgment let everyone in the police department know that it did not matter what they did, so long as it made him look good. Get arrest numbers, convictions and confessions. Send them to the hospital if they mouth off or to the morgue if they fight back. What he created was essentially a criminal enterprise that wore badges and carried guns. He allowed his police force to terrorize this community.
Once it becomes normalized within a police force that corruption, intimidation, and abusive tactics are the status quo, it never gets better. That’s where we are in Mount Vernon. During my short tenure as Mayor, I tried to fire as many bad actors as I could and was met with resistance at every turn, including arresting my Police Chief to stop him from carrying out my agenda. They circled the wagons around the overtime abusers and cover-up artists within the Department. They had the union fight me at every turn to keep criminals on the force.
The only way to reform a police department is to clean house. You need to take down those who think they are protected and make examples of them. You need to demand professionalism and immediately punish any shortfalls. You need to set high standards and enforce those standards. There is no “us versus them” – no “thin blue line” of protection. Those old ways of thinking and operating in the police department must be destroyed by eliminating policies that create a mindset in police officers that they’re above the law.
In July of this year, the current administration filled two positions as first deputy police commissioner and deputy police commissioner for “special initiatives.” According to the Mayor, “the leadership we promised to bring to Mount Vernon is what we’ve delivered.” By August, this so-called leadership was put to the test. During an arrest, two separate videos captured a MVPD officer punch a suspect at least a dozen times. Jennifer Lackard, one of those new hires to bring “leadership” to MVPD, stated after seeing the footage, “the videos clearly show excessive force was used.”
By September, the officer involved in that altercation was cleared of any wrongdoing following an “internal investigation” by the other new hire, deputy police commissioner, Ernest Morales III. Wagons were circled. Cops were exonerated of wrongdoing. Business goes on as usual. What comment did Ms. Lackard, the so-called watchdog of the police, have to say? Nothing. She couldn’t be reached for comment, and business goes on as usual.
If you were expecting change from MVPD under this new administration, you have been utterly deceived. All this administration has done is bring in people who will shovel you lines about “reform” while holding the old party line and protecting their own. That’s not “reform.” That’s what got us into this mess in the first place.
When you see an elected official hold a rally about abuse at the hands of the police in others cities claiming to be “with you;” they must first understand that before you march into another city or town demanding that they get their house in order, one must remember to have their own house in order first. Especially when you have the ability to change your own situation but choose to do nothing. Worse yet, when you continue the same abusive tactics of the past while dressing them up as something new and altogether different. Don’t believe the lies and the excuses any more.
You know better. Demand better. Hold your elected officials accountable.
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at [email protected]