This article, written in 2012 by Westchester Coalition for Police Reform’s Julie Davis Carran, details the origins of our organization. Carran is also the co-chair of the Westchester Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute for Nonviolence.
At noon on Saturday May 26, 2012, about 150 people gathered at the Thomas H. Slater Center in White Plains to protest the use of excessive force by police officers in encounters with the public. After speeches by groups and individuals from throughout Westchester, those assembled marched with signs through White Plains to the Westchester County Courthouse, where, under the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they heard more calls for racial justice and an end to police misconduct.
The numbers are evidence of a growing movement in Westchester that is calling for official oversight of Westchester’s police departments. A coalition called the Network for Police Accountability has come together since last December, to push for a County entity with prosecutorial powers to hear complaints about questionable actions by members of law enforcement; and state level legislation for establishing an independent investigative body.
The catalyst for creating the Network was the killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. on November 19, 2011. Mr. Chamberlain was a 68-year-old man with a heart condition whose medical alert sounded by mistake at 5:00 AM. Police were dispatched, and after an hour-long confrontation where the victim made clear he did not need or want their help, and that he was distressed and terrified, police broke into his apartment and Mr. Chamberlain was shot to death.
Last month a Westchester County grand jury voted not to indict the officers involved, finding that they acted in self-defense. But Mr. Chamberlain’s family and members of the wider community raise serious questions about why police needed to enter his apartment at all, and why—as recordings of the incident show—they verbally and physically escalated the situation. Attorneys are pursuing the case at a federal level, and the city of White Plains is investigating police policies and procedure. The wider community is likening this case to those of Danroy “DJ” Henry and Christopher Ridley, two other African American men killed by police under questionable circumstances, and many others. They hope that the death of Kenneth Chamberlain will ultimately lead to responsible policies and procedures to guide police in potentially deadly encounters, and build trust between Westchester’s communities and the people charged with keeping all of us safe.