The Queens Chapter of the National Action Network had numerous representatives on Aug. 23 during a march in Staten Island to protest the death of Eric Garner while he was being arrested in July.
On Monday, the Rev. Phil Craig, president of the chapter, asked more than 60 members what should come next.
“We can never go back,” Craig said. “Where do we go from here? We’re looking for solutions.”
At the meeting, held at Greater Springfield Community Church in Jamaica where he is pastor, Craig and others said there still is great mistrust of the NYPD within the city’s black community.
But most, in critiquing Saturday’s march, said they were pleased with the ethnic diversity of the participants and grateful that there were no confrontations.
Gloria Sharpe knows firsthand how that used to happen.
“I marched in Selma,” she said, referring to the 1965 march in Alabama organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King, where marchers were attacked by authorities.
“I felt the fire hoses,” she said. “And I only weighed about 100 pounds.”
One woman found dark humor in her observation that many stores appeared to have shut down in anticipation of trouble that never came.
“If they had stayed open, they could have made some money from us,” she said.
A number of people said they were simultaneously pleased with the number of young people participating, but disappointed that there were not more.
“You will be handing off the torch to the youth,” Sara McArthur said. “When you hand it off, you want them to have a positive experience.”
Craig and others said many young people in minority communities not just distrust the police but fear them.
They would like more positive interaction in terms of everything from the old-fashioned cop on the beat, to greater minority representation on the police force.
Craig believes officers need to better identify with the people they serve in their precincts and on their beats.
“Most are good cops,” he said. “But as you know, a bad apple to two can spoil the whole barrel.”
Craig also does not know how aggressively the NYPD takes minority recruitment, with the department actually selling the idea of a career in law enforcement.
“They have some events, but they need more,” he said. “They have some programs but a lot of people don’t know about them. They have to come into the churches and the schools and to community events.”
Craig issued the same challenge to those present, saying attending meetings is not enough. He also said some of the community’s difficulties can be short-circuited before the police are ever involved.
“You first need to do a self-inventory,” he said. “I’ll see a PTA meeting at a school with 700 or 800 students and seven parents show up. This is where self-sacrifice comes in. If you’re not home, they’ll find something somewhere else. Then they ask ‘How did my kid get caught up with that gang?’ Your ministry starts at home.”
A handful spoke of the importance of voting, particularly for the position of Queens district attorney, where Richard Brown, a Democrat, has seldom faced serious opposition since first being appointed in 1991.
An audience member brought up the troubling and continuing allegations coming out against former Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes, whose successor, Kenneth Thompson, is investigating scores of his convictions over the years.
Brown is up for re-election next year. Craig said the communities of Southeast Queens can influence elections and the selection of candidates if residents choose to wield that power responsibly.
“We can be a powerful voting block,” he said. “Everyone knows it. But people have to work together.”