Albany PD chief, Mayor Sheehan join local Black leaders for conversation on change

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Recent riots make it clear there’s a divide between members of the community and police. Louis Williams, owner of Celebrities Barbershop on Central Avenue, says he didn’t feel the support he needed every time rioters and looters came down his street.

“We didn’t get the engagement from the police, so it took me and a bunch of others upon ourselves to protect our businesses, and that’s not what we get paid for,” Williams says.

Albanys Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Police Chief Eric Hawkins joined members of Omega Psi Phi fraternity and the local Black community Friday to hear how they can listen, heal the divide, and initiate real change. Sheehan says she knows how important it is to meet community leaders.

“You have to know people. You have to be in the community in order to be able to lift up those authentic voices,” she explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Mayor Sheehan also says she’s been disturbed by the way she’s seen officers react to tough situations. Wednesday, Sheehan released a statement denouncing officers’ conduct in a now viral arrest video. The video showed a couple that was passing by an arrest and recording, only later to be physically restrained by police and charged with inciting a riot.

“That is not in any way what we expect of our officers or what our officers are trained to do. People have the right to express themselves. I’ve had people shout at me, yell at me, call me horrible things. I am not allowed to respond with force, and neither should our officers,” Sheehan says.

She also responded to riots Saturday and Monday nights and comments on social media blaming people outside the community for instigating.

“People are blaming outside agitators, but there were people in our community who were hurt by that,” Sheehan says. “We have members of the community who are hurting, because they saw our police department deploy teargas — which we have not done. They saw us deploy it, not just once, but twice in residential communities and they’re angry and they’re frustrated by that and I share that frustration.”

Sheehan and Police Chief Eric Hawkins both say they will now have open office hours for anyone to come voice their concerns.

“So that we can hear raw and unfiltered what the people in this community really feel. A lot of times by the time it gets to my level, some of their concerns have been diluted a little bit, they’ve been filtered. So I need to hear really what the residents in this community how they feel,” Hawkins says.

He says he feels a deep internal struggle to see the disconnect between his department and the Albany community.

“I know how great the men and women of the Albany Police Department are, but I also know the pain and frustration and anger that people like me, who look like me, feel towards this sort of institution,” he says.

Chief Hawkins says he finds the reform suggestions announced Thursday by the Common Council to be fair. Those reforms include repealing legal shields that prevent the public from accessing police disciplinary records, a mandate on body cameras, and for local government and law enforcement offices to participate in scholarship programs for disenfranchised youth.

“It gives us the chance to reflect internally on how we are operating, our own policies and procedures and our own practices. We are able to reflect on our own culture, all of those different things,” Hawkins says.

Our Black leaders say they’re not unsympathetic to the tough job police officers have.

“How would you feel if somebody attacked you with a brick? How would you feel? Your first thing is to fight back, but we are asking them to restrain,” asks Michael Logan, the Basileus of Omega Psi Phi, Nu Tau Chapter.

Logan encourages those hurt and angry by the death of George Floyd and systemic racism to rise up for their education to better the community they live in.

“The school board vote is coming up. We are not paying attention to that. We have to vote on the school budget. Not only that, the census is coming up. Nobody’s talking about the census. Why aren’t we talking about these things? This is all a distraction from what’s going on,” he says.

“Now don’t get me wrong, being Black in America is not a good thing. Being Black in America means being targeted. Being Black in America means being disenfranchised. Being Black in America means being at the bottom of the totem pole, but there’s a couple of things that we can do. We can’t keep complaining,” Logan continues.

That’s why the Omega Psi Phi members put the call out to the community, raise your voices the right way in peaceful protest.

“I implore you to please, please, please handle yourselves with dignity. Keep protesting, keep fighting, keep having your voice heard. Don’t stop that, but do it with dignity and grace,”

“You have a voice. Speak, write, do those things, vote,” Logan says.

They’re calling for an end to violent riots and looting as a response.

“Two or three months down the road when we go down to that store, there’s not going to be a store there because the owner of that store could not recover. What I am imploring to you now is let’s take care of Albany’s community. Let’s take care of the stores we have here. Let’s take care of the people who have invested in the community,” Logan says.

To schedule a meeting with Mayor Kathy Sheehan or Police Chief Eric Hawkins, send an email with your contact information to change@albanyny.gov.

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