Reporter’s Notebook: Town of Haverstraw Backs The Blue

 

By: Keith S. Shikowitz

The unwarranted hatred and desire to defund police across the country has reached a fever pitch with Presidential Candidate Joe Biden stating that the police have become the enemy. Many democratic mayors, governors and legislatures are also tying the hands of the police, claiming that officers use unnecessary lethal force against suspects; yet these same politicians want to take away all of the non-lethal methods of dealing with situations such as tear gas and pepper spray. The results speak for themselves. Just months after the Minneapolis City Council called for “dismantling” the police department in the wake of George Floyd’s death, their government is panicking that there’s not enough policing to deal with the spike in violent crime.

Amid all of this controversy, the Town of Haverstraw has followed the examples of Suffern and Pearl River by holding a Support the Police Rally in Bowline Park on September 20. The Haverstraw rally echoed the spirit of those earlier events and demonstrated Rockland’s appreciation of their law enforcement community. The event was organized by Claudia Perry.

Perry decided to organize the Haverstraw rally two months ago after attending the demonstration in Pearl River.  “We wanted to have recognition for our police officers who work very hard at keeping our community safe,” she explained.

Perry was pleasantly surprised how involved the community became. “It wasn’t that bad. Everyone was so helpful. They all pitched in because they felt it was a worthy cause. I just want this to be a positive rally for everyone to appreciate what law enforcement do for us all the time and I just want to thank everyone who comes out here today to support them.”

The non-political program for the event included a performance from the Emerald Society Pipe band, some speakers, a few of songs and a moment of silence for fallen officers.

Howard Phillips, Haverstraw’s Town Supervisor, thanked everybody for coming out. He also thanked Claudia Perry for doing an “incredible job” of organizing the event, the Emerald Society for performing, and the Nam Knights, a motorcycle club that works to “honor the memory of American Veterans and Police Officers,” for attending the rally.

Supervisor Phillips also spoke of a tragic and touching event he witnessed involving the police when he was very young. “No, I’m not talking about me getting arrested gentlemen” quipped Phillips. “I know there’s a lot of people out there who know me when I was younger.”

The Supervisor instead recounted a fatal car accident that occurred in his youth and the compassion demonstrated by the responding police officers. “The father of the young man driving the car was driving in front of his son. He watched in his rear – view mirror as his son’s car was sideswiped and could barely process what happened. The father got off at the next exit and circled back around. He got out of the car, came running up and, as you can imagine, emotionally he just broke down. One of the officers immediately went over to him, grabbed him and just hugged together as he wept bitterly in his arms.”

The Supervisor went on to praise the police and firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11/2001. “Just a few days ago, we celebrated, the courageous, selfless acts of so many in law enforcement. They charged into the World Trade Center when people were running out. Selfless, unbelievable bravery.”

Phillips then recounted a more recent example of the bravery he has witnessed from our law enforcement. “Only a few years ago here in Haverstraw our officers arrived on the scene of a fully engulfed apartment complex. People were sleeping. The smoke was so thick that the officers had to get down on their bellies and crawl and bang on those doors to alert the people. Not one person died. That’s how we remember our officers. Selfless acts of courage, day in and day out. It truly is amazing what our officers do every day.”

“We live in probably the greatest country in the world. I know that you know the job that you do. It’s easy for you to get down. It’s easy for you to see the riots going on. The people screaming in the police’s faces, spitting and yelling. This is what I want to tell you today, on behalf of the town board members and our community: we are extremely proud of our officers.”

Jim Monaghan, the Town Supervisor for Stony Point, shared his colleague’s sentiments. “We’re here today to show support for our law enforcement officers,” Monaghan told the crowd. “We’re very blessed here in the community of North Rockland. We have great police officers, with a great rapport with our community. They do so many things throughout the year. Whether it’s our North Rockland Youth Police Academy, our Police Athletic Leagues who regularly reach out to young people, to our students they have such a positive rapport (with the community).

“We have to as a community, when these radicals, riot, loot and attack our police officers, say we are not going to take it. We have to stand up and fight. I carry the badge of a NYC Police officer for 29 years. They want to attack and condemn.” He reached into his back pocket, pulled out his shield, held it up in the air with pride and exclaimed “well this badge still shines! It stands for pride, commitment and respect. That’s all we’re going to accept. It’s time for us to stand up and our voices be heard.” He concluded.

Stony Point Police Department Sergeant Keith Hansen who is also President of Rockland County Shields, first had to adjust the mike stand.

“It’s going to sound like I’m reading. That’s because I am. I’m not good at giving speeches” admitted the Sergeant. “The Shields represents approximately 1200 officers active and retired who live and work in Rockland County.”

He went on to say that the past few months have been hard on law enforcement. “First, we got blindsided by the global pandemic. We didn’t have the option to shelter in place or quarantine. Like all other first responders, we were there day and night handling calls for service. Arresting people, going into houses and apartment complexes. We knew it was only a matter of time before we contracted COVID.”

Following the health department guidelines “to a tee”, they adjusted their daily routines while department policy shifted at an inexpiable pace. “We ran to help people while wearing N95 masks and fogged up safety glasses. We did our best to provide the community with the level of service that our department has always done. The reality set in as we noticed people starting to get sick. First it was the town residents.”

He then realized that most of the first COVID cases he responded to were cops, firemen and healthcare workers. The same people who didn’t have the option to shelter in place, social distance or quarantine. “Then our own medics started getting sick. People I had just worked with the night before were now home waiting for the test results while battling a fever and difficulty breathing. Then we saw the cops getting sick. We knew it was only a matter of time. We didn’t stop doing our job in fear of contracting the virus. We did what we always do, we put the health and safety of everyone else before ourselves. At the end of the day we came home to our families and we cringed as our kids ran towards us (got a little emotional) and we couldn’t hug them until we changed our clothes and took a shower.”

“We almost didn’t realize that this crazy new routine was a distraction. A distraction from an even harsher reality. And that’s when it happened, and it happened again. In May we were dragged through the mud once again after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We listened to the radio in our cars. We watched the news at the police station and at home. As it seemed that every pundit and talking head with access to a microphone had become an expert in police tactics and criminal procedure law. This is nothing new. Sadly, we have been dealing with destructive criticism for generations. It has been increasing at an alarming rate since 2008. So has violence to our police officers!” Hansen exclaimed.

Protesting peacefully is one of our First Amendment Rights. There is no problem with this. There is a problem when the peaceful protests turn to riots. Although to listen to Chris Cuomo who said, ‘Show me where it says that protests are supposed to be polite and peaceful,’ the burning and looting is protected. Oh yes… to answer his statement, the first amendment says it needs to be peaceful.

Hansen asserts that the current riots are different from those that happened in years past. The rioters seemed more interested in hurting the police officers that were there to protect them, than they were about peacefully getting their point across. Fires raged through store fronts, gas stations and churches. “Cops were pummeled with bricks, frozen water bottles, rocks, commercial grade explosive mortars and more recently blinded by high intensity laser pointers. We have seen the hostile takeovers of entire neighborhoods in Seattle and Portland. Statues, parks and municipal buildings have all been vandalized with vulgar graffiti. These are properties that belong to you, to me, to us, to the people.”

With a touch of anger in his voice, Hansen continued, “Heroic police officers have been getting savagely executed by cowards who seem to have no regard for any life. Yet they chant that certain lives matter more than others. Just think for a moment that the supporters of these riots actually accuse us of being racists for saying all lives matter. God forbid, Blue Lives Matter!”

Many of the polls around the country are showing that people who were originally supporting the protesters are changing their opinions. Hansen agrees with this, “I believe that a large majority of Americans have had enough of this nonsense. They’re tired of seeing our flag trampled and set on fire. They’re tired of seeing their local main street boarded up because rioters and looters are setting fire to every store down the road. They’re sick and tired of seeing our police getting pummeled with rocks, bricks and the like. The Back the Blue rallies started popping up across the country. Some of them had been canceled because of threats made by despicable hypocrites who think that their First Amendment rights trump ours. But we say no! We will not be silenced! We will not stand by, watch our beloved statues, parks and monuments get destroyed or our cities burned to ashes. We will not remain silent as our police officers are hunted down on duty or having their houses shot up while their family is sleeping inside.”

Jose Nunez, President of the Rockland County Hispanic Law Enforcement Organization (RCHLEO) gave a brief weather report before beginning his remarks with his speech. “Brr… it’s a little cold out here. There’s nothing like a good fall morning on the Hudson River.”

“I’ve spent a majority of my life serving my fellow man. I served in the US Marine Corps for four years. The NYPD for 5.5 years. For the past 13 years proudly served the Rockland County community with my brothers and sisters of the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department. That makes up almost half my life serving my fellow man. I am also honored to be the President of the Rockland County Hispanic Law Enforcement Organization. I am also humbled to be the Sergeant at Arms for the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) Mid – Hudson Lodge 188.”

Nunez spoke about where his sense of duty comes from. “My sense of duty to my brothers and sisters in blue has been forged by people who have come before me. People who have always stood firm in their beliefs of helping their fellow man. It takes courage to stand up for your convictions. It takes dedication to stand up to adversity. Often, in times of trouble and despair, we, the law enforcement community are the first and ONLY line of defense. We are often the ones called upon to quell the violence that is festering in our communities. Someone once told me, ‘We are able to sleep peacefully at night because of those men and women that are willing to defend us.’ This quote signifies what the brotherhood of law enforcement embodies. We are often put into situations that test one’s inner fortitude. “

There are professions which people feel are a calling. Policing and teaching are two of them. Nunez summed this up for the crowd. “We do this work, not for the glory and certainly not for the money. We do this work because we are answering a call. We do this work because it perfectly describes who we are as individuals within our society. We do this work in honor of our families, ourselves and our communities.”

Nunez than shared two quotes from former President Reagan that really sum up the current situation we are in. The first was ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.’ Nunez related the second, ‘Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.’ Here we are one generation away from Reagan’s presidency and our freedoms are in danger of extinction and evil people are trying to make the good afraid.

“At any given turn, on any given occasion, we, the proud servants of our communities find ourselves being the one thing standing between anarchy and a just society. On any given day, we find ourselves confronting a miscreant, a thief or a killer. During those times we wear the armor of the protector. During those times, we stand up for a society that has been the envy of the world over. The law enforcement officer is and always will be the one standing guard while the citizens go about their day peacefully.” Nunez stated.

“We go about our work in a manner befitting the expectations of our fellow man. This work isn’t without critics though. During these times of turmoil, my brothers and sisters in blue have often been vilified. We have often been made out to be monsters. We have often been called criminals ourselves. We have been called murderers and an abortion in the evolution of a society. It’s during these times I find inspiration in the words of Maya Angelou, “I have learned that people will forget what you have said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” At a time when our skill and our character are being taken to task, we must remind ourselves that we are the product of our training. My fellow law enforcement officers retired and present serving now fully understand that. We must remind ourselves of the trust that has been bestowed upon us. We must remind ourselves that we are not robots. We are human beings. We are not infallible. We are not perfect. We are human beings.”

Maureen McArdle Schulman a law and order/support the police candidate for the NY 17th Congressional District was also in attendance at the event. “I think this was an excellent event. It’s wonderful to come out and support the police departments from NYC to Rockland County. Anywhere they go. I’ve attended at least four rallies in the 17th Congressional District, I may have missed a few. I haven’t seen my opponent at one. I didn’t see him at any 911 memorial services. I went to five  and the ball game at Palisades Credit Union Park. I didn’t see him anywhere. I went to mass the night before in Rockland County. I didn’t see him there. Maybe he’s keeping a low profile. I’m not sure.”

During the election season candidates are usually out stomping through their district trying to drum up votes and show support for thee constituents. What does Schulman think this says about her opponent’s support for the community he wants to represent? “I think it means he doesn’t have a clue. I really don’t. I don’t think he has a clue as to what the community is made up of.”

Schulman’s believes that defunding  the police is a major mistake. “Part of what the local government does is protect the people. If the local government can’t protect the people then the federal government has to step in and we to avoid that at all costs. We don’t want the federal government having to step in to do that.”

Sending the federal troops in to cities to put down the riots and looting is the last resort. We are getting to a point where these riots are close to becoming insurrections. You’ve got people taking over parts of cities. That’s a revolution. That’s an insurrection. Should the Insurrection Act be used? Maybe support the local police with money.

Whereas many federal representatives concentrate more on the national solutions to problems, Schulman is a believer in local people, local laws, rather than state or federal intervention. “The local politicians have to take care of this themselves. It’s an absolute disgrace not protecting people and the property. You know what’s going to happen, the insurance companies are going to get involved. $1 – 2 billion in damages from these riots. When they get involved, that’s why we have to wear seatbelts. They get involved, things are going to change.”

The questions now are: What if the local authorities refuse to do anything about it? Where do you draw the line? When does the federal government tell them they’ve had enough time to fix this on the local and state level, and they haven’t?

“I know in Westchester county a couple of police stations closed down, not recently, and the county came in and took over. That might be what has to happen. If the local officials can’t help their police, then the county might have to come in and take over. If the county can’t handle that, then it has to go one step up from that. Then the troopers would have to come in. We don’t want that. We want to keep everything local. We want to be able to recognize the local police officers as they drive by you. You wave to them. You say hello. We want a familiar face.”

One example of how important local police are to a community can be found in Mount Kisco. According to Schulman they got rid of the Mount Kisco Police and now they have the county in there. “I was talking to some of the guys from the county. Very nice people. They said they go in and out every three days. Every three days there are new police officers there. We don’t want that. We want to see the same faces on the same tour five days a week who we recognize. Could be a neighbor.”

She reiterated her feelings about how well the event went wishing there was more people coming to support the police. “I just don’t understand how my opponent or the opponents of other Republicans are not out here. This is a non -partisan thing to support our local police wherever they are. I just don’t understand why they are not here. They would probably garner a few votes if they showed up and talked to people. But they are not showing up. They’re putting up their wall against the police and that’s not right.”

If candidates got paid by the mile, Schulman would be making a fortune. “I’m trying really hard. I’m out there every day. Meeting people. Greeting people. Talking to them. I’m doing the best I can. I don’t see my opponent anywhere around. He wants to hide. That’s fine with me. I would say we may not know until election day, but then again we may not know until January who has won this battle.”