Commentary: Should We Cheer Harlem’s New All-Black Police Command?

A historic moment for diversity in the NYPD has some critics wondering if there’s anything to be happy about.

Posted: 11/20/2012 09:01 AM EST
Filed Under NYPD, National News, Harlem

Whether it happened intentionally or by happy accident, it happened: When Captain Steven Griffith, a traffic officer, took over leading West 126th Street's 26th Precinct in New York City, every police precinct in Harlem was being headed up by an African-American officer. As one of the most historic enclaves of Black life in American history, it may seem obvious that Blacks should be in positions of authority around Harlem. But that obviously hasn’t been the case for quite some time, and even now some people aren’t so sure Blacks in leadership positions in Harlem means much when it comes to racial equality in the NYPD. I’d argue that it depends on what sort of justice you’re looking for.

To some, Black cops getting promotions in Harlem is a tainted victory, because rarely does that kind of promotion happen in lower Manhattan. Murray Weiss reports on that dissatisfaction in the Huffington Post:

[A]nother retired Dlack police official said the department would truly be diversified when Black commanders were given positions atop operational divisions and precinct commands in prestigious Manhattan South.

“One thing Commissioner Kelly has not done, there has never been a Black precinct commander below 59th Street,” he said.

“That is where the business people are, the crème de la crème, so to speak, and when he has done that, he will have come full circle.”

It’s fair to be wary of the NYPD, which does not, as any Black American knows, have the best reputation when it comes to race relations. It follows that it’s also fair to be wary of congratulating the NYPD for promoting Black officers in Harlem and refusing to do so in lower precincts. But while it’s reasonable to be reluctant, let’s not forget that it’s possible to see Black police promotions in Harlem in a good way.

It’s long been known that community-oriented policing, and hiring police officers who can engage and empathize with the communities they police, are beneficial strategies when attempting to prevent crime and draw forth goodwill from a city for its cops. Though hiring Black officers in Harlem obviously doesn’t do anything to mitigate the problem of no Blacks leading Manhattan's South precincts, it does put Black cops in charge in a predominately Black part of New York City. It’s not a perfect outcome, obviously, but there’s a silver lining here that shouldn’t be brushed aside, especially not with stop-and-frisk tearing a city apart.


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(Photo: REUTERS/Keith Bedford)

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