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I sit here at my computer still in awe of the tremendous turnout on Main Street on Sunday for the Black Lives Matter Rally. All in attendance experienced a peaceful gathering, an afternoon that brought me, and I hope everyone, a sense of community, a feeling of hope and a renewed sense of urgency to be even better.
As I mentioned on Sunday, the Board of Trustees and I are undertaking a review of the Irvington Police Department’s Policies and Procedures. A large part of that review process will involve you, the community. Additionally, I urge anyone to share their personal experiences with the Irvington Police Department, both positive and negative. We are here to listen, and we hope to work with you and our police department to make Irvington a special place for all. So, please do reach out if you are interested in working with us directly or if you have any expertise that could be useful in this most important project.
The original written version of my speech from Sunday is below in case you were not able to attend the rally (what I said was, of course, slightly different but the overall message is certainly the same).
“The events of the last few weeks, starting with the murder of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers, have been incredibly sad and incredibly frustrating. It has filled many with rage, it has left others speechless. I have been both, often at the same time. I have also felt shame and helpless and worthless and, sometimes hopeless. What can I do to make it better? More importantly, what can we do as a family, as a village, a state, a nation?I spent much of the last two weeks looking at the past: Past atrocities at the hands of over-zealous police, both in the recent and distant past, economic causes of racism and inequality, voices of hope and freedom from the last 400 hundred years. While I am afraid I was not able to find easy answers to many of my questions – it created an urgency in me to do what I could, as a man, as a father and as a mayor. I realized I had to acknowledge the past, and especially past failings, but importantly to focus on the present. On today. It is too easy to ‘build a better future’ – that is tomorrow. We need to do something today.So, what can I do as mayor of a small Village like Irvington? Probably the most important thing is to listen. Listen to the voices that feel uncomfortable in our Village, because of the color their skin or the religious symbol around their neck. Listen to the residents who have had bad interactions with our police department – find out why. Find out why my understanding of the same incident may have been so different from what they experienced.I would like to talk about our Police Department here in Irvington. Twenty-two men and women. Twenty-two. That small number allows me to know almost all of them well, many I have grown up with my whole life. I know them personally as caring, kind, professional and fair. I know they are well-trained, well-equipped and well-led by their leadership. I am immensely proud of them and I truly believe there is not a better group of men and women anywhere. The members of IPD are not statistics or numbers for me to “manage”. They are people, our neighbors, our friends and they want Irvington to be the best place in the world to live. I am also very proud in their willingness to improve, to look at policies, to look at training, to look at hiring. It is truly special that we have a police department with the same goal as many of you here today. We all know talk is cheap – politicians love to give speeches at rallies, only to let the moment pass, and then to get back to the status quo. It makes sense, it is easy and it avoids many difficult conversations. I am happy to announce that I have taken the Obama Foundation Pledge: Over the next 90 days we will 1. REVIEW our police use of force policies. 2. ENGAGE our communities by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in your review. 3. REPORT the findings of our review to the community and seek feedback. 4. REFORM our community’s police use of force policies.I am happy to report that step one is already in progress. We have a lot of work ahead and policing is just one issue. But we have an urgency that we have never had before in my lifetime. When was the last time there was a rally in Irvington for social change? I look forward to working with my colleagues in Greenburgh, in Westchester, in New York State and in Washington to keep the discussions going, keep the listening going, to keep equality for all a front burner issue.A question for all of you. How many of you are under 25? YOU! You give me hope that this time is different too. Thank you all for being here again. I am listening.”
Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Brian C. Smith, MayorVillage of Irvington, NYbsmith@irvingtonny.gov