Reasons for Hope in Ossining

In the wake of George Floyd being killed by Minneapolis police on camera…

In a nation where the president advocates for police violence…

In a moment when people have been isolated for months under a state of emergency…

With unemployment and economic devastation not seen since the Great Depression…

During a pandemic that has killed over 100,000 in the US, disproportionately people of color…

Righteous anger and frustration by millions should come as no surprise. The systematic failure by so many in law enforcement to respond to protesters and people of color with basic regard for human life, is a continuation of the legacy of slavery and racism that has been with us since the founding of our country.

In Ossining where generations of leaders have worked to foster a unified community that transcends our racial and cultural diversity, maybe, just maybe, we have built a strong enough foundation of trust among each other and with the Ossining Police Department that this moment can catalyze something even better for the next generation.

photo by Liz Feldman

Yesterday a small group gathered at the Ossining waterfront. A few young people created a forum for residents to speak and to listen. It lasted two hours. Most everyone wore a mask and stood at a distance from other attendees. Chief Sylvester was one of the speakers. His message was eloquent and heartfelt. I watched some of the event on an impromptu Facebook livestream.

What impressed me most was the thoughtful, calm messages shared by students and recent graduates. Their comments were not driven by anger, though I know they are angry. They are no less angry, no less horrified, no less frustrated than protesters across the country attending peaceful gatherings that turned into violence. Thank you to Jalay Knowles and the organizers of yesterday’s event who set a clear positive tone where messages often spoke of love and community. Thank you to Chief Sylvester and OPD for matching this tone and interacting with the attendees in a thoughtful manner that supported the intention of the event.

Yesterday was one of those instances when asking forgiveness rather than permission might have been just as well. Normally events of this kind are coordinated in advance with local officials and OPD. When Chief Sylvester learned of the plan for the event, he texted me and the Town Supervisor with the minimal information he had, not long before it began. Because groups larger than ten are not allowed to gather during this time of social distancing, I feel it would have been hypocritical, even irresponsible, to attend. That said, a couple of my colleagues from Town government did, and that’s understandable.

There is no playbook for how to respond to the need for people to speak, to listen, to connect in community despite a state of emergency that clearly instructs us to stay home or at least at a distance. Tonight more folks plan to gather and continue what began last night. I’m somewhat concerned about an even larger group of people. I will hope to watch some of the speakers if an attendee livestreams on Facebook. I will hope that the beautiful intentions of Jalay and her fellow organizers, and OPD’s dedication to positive police/community relations are enough to preserve a peaceful gathering in a moment when peace is very much needed.

This is all happening against the backdrop of a pandemic where we are struggling to maintain a low rate of virus transmission so that we can continue on a path of phased reopening. When we see images of George Floyd struggling to breathe under the knees of police officers who ultimately kill him, the inconvenience of breathing through a mask seems trivial.

As we look for points of light, reasons to feel hopeful and inspired, we need look no further than our own backyard. I’ve reached out to offer village support to the leaders of this effort to continue the necessary, thoughtful and constructive conversation beyond when the national cameras become distracted by another story. Let us work together to find safe ways to feed the flame of community connections that can lead us to a better tomorrow.

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