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Wednesday 7 December 2022
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Mayor Miner on Syracuse Violence, SPD: Systemic Racism Does Exist

By Rodney Brown

 

Mayor Miner state of thecitySyracuse residents are still reeling from the Father’s Day shootings that took place in June, after a barrage of gunfire erupted into a crowd of more than 300 people celebrating the holiday during an event on the city’s near west side.

Syracuse Police Department video showed multiple armed men firing weapons into the rear of the fleeing crowd at the time.

And, in the midst of the melee, Gary Porter, 41, was shot in the back and killed, by Officer Kelsey Francemone.

Porter died at the scene.

Since Porter’s death, Francemone has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident; however, several members of the community have organized protests and demonstrations in response to the grand jury’s decision.

In addition, the shootings have also raised questions among residents regarding whether there should be limits imposed upon officers’ use of deadly force, as well as whether there will be opportunities to have an open discussion with officers.

In an effort to facilitate this discussion, CNY Vision has recently spoken with Mayor Stephanie Miner regarding Porter’s death, her relationship with the Civilian Review Board, and city police officers’ relationships with residents.

Relative to Porter’s death, Mayor Miner said the city has currently handed over all evidence in the case to the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office.

In addition, she said the officer who shot Porter has been cleared by a grand jury, following a thorough investigation by both the district attorney’s office, and the attorney general.

Ultimately, the mayor said she attributed the violence that day to the fact that there are still too many guns on Syracuse streets.

“What I would tell you is that there are too many guns on the street,” Miner stated. “What we’ve seen happen is this fear factor, where the community fears the police, and the police fear the community. And, it takes away that one or two seconds of judgment when they should stop and reflect, and see and talk to people. As long as we have these many weapons on our streets, and in our neighborhoods, we’re going to have a very tough time minimizing violence, and victims.”

According to Miner, the relationship between police departments and the communities they serve has been tenuous across the country lately, especially when the “Black Lives Matter” movement has called close attention to police brutality, as well as the far-reaching lack of diversity within police departments nationwide.

And, in Syracuse, she said the interaction between residents and police is no exception.

As a result of this shaky relationship, Miner said complaints from residents regarding officer misconduct have skyrocketed.

“I think it’s a combination of people feeling like justice is not something that they and their family are going to receive, or have received,” she stated. “Rather, they’re seeking economic justice, or social justice, or to simply be treated as an American with the right not to be stopped and frisked.”

This is an important, unequivocal right everyone should have, Miner said, which also makes it important to remember that, systemic racism does exist.

“When you have urban school systems that are chronically and consistently under-funded by state government, when you have criminal laws that overwhelmingly put people of color behind bars at much higher rates than they put white people behind bars; there’re systemic issues in our Democracy that are not giving everybody equal rights and equal justice, and that burden is falling on people of color,” she stated.

Miner said the city has also attempted to address the lack of diversity within the Syracuse Police Department. Currently, the SPD’s number of white officers stands at almost 90 percent.

The city presently uses a federal consent decree it received in 1980 to select minority candidates for its police and fire department who may have scored lower on civil service examinations than their white counterparts.

The city is currently working with the Justice Department to create a fairer standard for the tests, she stated.

“I don’t think they are fair today, but we have been working with the justice department,” Miner said.

However, notwithstanding these concessions, Miner has continued to have a rocky relationship with Syracuse’s Civilian Review Board, in defense of city police.

Both the mayor and Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler have had recent dust-ups with the review board that have led to firings, legislation vetoes, and, currently, even a lawsuit.

Miner’s latest run-in with the CRB included an attempt to veto a request from the board, after it asked for funds to hire a part-time investigator and forensic pathologist to investigate allegations of police misconduct.

“There’s a natural tension between the CRB, the mayor’s office, and the police chief,” she said. “And, I tell people that tension is going to always be there. But, unfortunately, prior to the last two CRB chairs, we had a CRB that wasn’t working at all. The chair wasn’t doing investigations, and was not measuring up to the standards that the people of this city deserve to have. So I fired the CRB head, and reconstituted the board. I continued to give them the support they needed, but, at the same time, I understand there’s going to be tension. I’m in charge of the police department, and I don’t think their discipline should be public.”

Miner said one of the main points of contention she’s had with the board is due to the fact that its initial purpose was to serve as an avenue of mediation between residents and officers. Instead, she said it’s been used by some as a vehicle to sue the police.

“If they [residents] have a serious complaint, other than demeanor issues, they need to go file their complaint in criminal court,” she stated. “The CRB is only supposed to handle simple demeanor issues. If it’s a criminal, or civil violation, it should be in the court.”

However, on the contrary, David Chaplin, the current administrator of the CRB, said the board’s job is much more comprehensive than that, and it’s something the mayor already knows.

“I think Miner knows full and well that the CRB is an independent investigative body that is assigned to investigate police conduct,” Chaplin stated. “We also recommend discipline, or training, or counseling, or the officer being reprimanded.”

Syracuse’s Common Council voted to override Miner’s veto in 2015, which would’ve released the $15,000 in funds the CRB requested to hire the investigators; however, the release of the funds has been stalled, while the city has appealed the decision in court.

Consequently, as the mayor is approaching the end of her final term in office, her legacy, relative to the city’s relationship with its officers, and the resulting dynamic it has created between Syracuse police and city residents may remain uncertain.

Soon, she’ll pass the baton to a new mayor.

But, in the meantime, Miner said she’d like the community to know it’s been a profound honor they’ve given her to become the mayor of Syracuse, and that every day she’s tried “to do her best to ensure the city delivers justice in as many shapes and forms as possible to everybody who lives in Syracuse.”

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