The New York City police force will be retrained in an effort to treat all residents with an equal measure of respect, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a press conference on Thursday.
Protests gripped the city last night following the news that a Staten Island grand jury would not indict a white police officer involved in a fatal encounter with a black man suspected of selling loose cigarettes. In comments to reporters, the mayor and Police Commissioner William Bratton stressed their commitment to reforming police practices.
“People need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives,” de Blasio said. “This is not just a problem in New York City, it’s an American problem, an American challenge.”
The mayor laid out several ways police officers will be retrained: changing how officer speak with residents; changing how they listen; slowing down interactions; de-escalating confrontations and using less force whenever possible.
De Blasio touted policy changes made under his administration, which began this year. Those changes include a sharp reduction in stop-and-frisk tactics, loosening marijuana enforcement and a new pilot program requiring police officers to wear body cameras, an initiative that was launched yesterday to help ease public tensions over the case of Eric Garner.
Garner, 43, died after being placed in a chokehold by officer Daniel Pantaleo. The incident was captured with a cell phone camera by Ramsey Orta, a friend of Garner's who had been talking to him about where to eat dinner.
Orta — convicted felon who faces a recent handgun charge — told the New York Daily News he believed the grand jury was rigged. “I think they already had their minds made up,” he said. “I feel like it wasn't fair at all,”
Orta wasn't alone. Hundreds of New Yorkers took to the streets on Wednesday night to express frustration with the decision and the police department. Although the protests were peaceful, demonstrators shut down major roadways — including the Brooklyn Bridge — and 83 people were arrested in the course of the night.
The police retraining program aims to win back the trust of skeptical residents. Commissioner Bratton said roughly 20,000 officers would take a three-day course in an effort to better serve their communities.
De Blasio framed the new trainings as a watershed moment for the city.
“It will have an impact on millions of people, because every interaction that every officer has with their fellow New Yorkers after they are trained again will be different," he said.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.