WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Surya Peterson sat in a circle of chairs at the Mount Hope AME Zion Church Thursday alongside fellow Westchester residents who said they felt compelled by recent events – most specifically the fatal shooting of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. by a White Plains Police Officer – to launch a Network for Police Accountability.
“It’s about whether I live another day. That’s why people want accountability,” said Peterson. “I’ve been here for over 70 years and I’m quite interested in fairness, truthfulness and justice for black people.”
The Network for Police Accountability discussed the need for local police departments to publicize their policies regarding when and how officers use force. Members of the group said their concerns come after the Chamberlain family announced that they viewed audio and video of the shooting, which they said documents police taunting the 68-year-old corrections officer and using a racial slur while he refused medical care. Immediately after breaking down the door to his Winbrook Public Housing apartment, police fired a Taser at Chamberlain without issuing commands, according to the family.
Public Safety Commissioner David Chong has said officers needed to get inside Chamberlain’s apartment to ensure the loud noises inside were not somebody in need of aid. Police said officers attempted to use non-lethal force, but Chamberlain came at an officer with a knife, prompting the officer to fire two shots into the former Marine’s chest. However, an attorney for the Chamberlain family said the autopsy shows Chamberlain’s arm was at his side, not swinging a weapon, when the fatal bullet hit him.
“Someone said, ‘Let’s see, let’s make them accountable.’ I thought, what do you mean make them accountable? All you have to do, I thought, is go to the police department and see the laws of what you can and can’t do and voilà,” said Peterson. “I had no idea.”
The network agreed to write letters alerting local, state and federal politicians that the Westchester community has concerns about the shooting and is expecting grand jurors to review a full and fair investigation. The coalition said it also plans to research various configurations for a countywide civilian review board and investigate residents’ concerns, as well as police grievances, such as that of White Plains Police Officer Michael Hannon.
In another recent city case cited by the group, Hannon filed a civil lawsuit against White Plains and its Assistant Police Chief Anne FitzSimmons, accusing her of disciplining him by lodging a “heavy chair on wheels” at his back. According to the suit, the chair that was thrown collided with Hannon’s chair and kept him out of work for three months with spinal injuries.
Police have mostly declined to comment on both lawsuits since litigation is pending.
Thursday, Chamberlain Sr.’s son thanked the network members for their support and echoed attendees who said the community needed to pull together.
“I won’t say that I turned a blind eye to a lot of the things, but I didn’t really pay close attention to everything that was going on until it happened to my father,” said Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. “When that incident happened in my father’s building, although there were people that heard things, nobody opened their door. Maybe had they opened their doors and said, ‘Hey what’s going on out here,’ maybe the police would’ve said, ‘Wow the people are watching us. We have to be careful.’”