As Nassau County’s 185 new police cadets learn the ropes of their new jobs during a seven-month-long training program, they will watch a video produced by Elmont Memorial High School students in which they talk about their experiences with police officers and offer suggestions for improving relations between the Nassau County Police Department and communities of color.
The Men of Elmont, a mentoring program that was founded by Principal Kevin Dougherty and Raymond Ramos, a school security guard, in 2016, was tasked with creating the video by county Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder as part of the county’s effort to expand community policing, as ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Following the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, Cuomo directed all police departments to develop plans to work more harmoniously with community members, and to implement those plans by April 2021 to receive state funding. Since then, Nassau County officials have held several town hall meetings focused on policing, and have reached out to various stakeholders to discuss the issue.
“If we are ever going to change as a society and find common ground, we must listen to understand and respect each other’s opinions,” Ryder said in a statement, calling the NCPD “one of the finest in the country, the best trained and very engaged in our community.”
“However,” he said, “we can always look to do better. We owe that to our community and we owe that to our officers.”
To do so, the students said in their video, police should be more present at events, and treat Black people more fairly. “They’re saying, ‘We, too, are human, and we, too, deserve respect,” Principal Kevin Dougherty said of the students featured, and they do not want Black men and women to be the victims of aggressive policing.
In fact, the video begins with the students lamenting to police officers, “For far too long we’ve asked you to see us in a positive light, not a negative one, and understand that all the people of Elmont are not bad and that Black Lives Matter.”
“It takes a village,” they say, “and you are part of the village.”
But in order to be a productive part of the community, the students said, police officers need to attend more events in Elmont. Senior Akinwale Agesin said his family has had only two experiences with police officers. The first occurred when he was younger, and he and his mother were struggling to bring home bags of groceries. A squad car stopped them, and the police wound up offering to put their groceries in the car and giving them a ride home.
His family’s second experience with police, however, Agesin said, took place in April, when his father called New York City police to report a Latino man banging loudly on a door. His father was wearing a suit and tie, Agesin recalled, but the police started questioning him instead of the man who was causing trouble.
“My father was discouraged,” Agesin says in the video. “I only hope there will be more stories like mine, and not like my father’s.”
Many of the other students, however, said they had seen police only in the area where someone was being arrested. “You shouldn’t have to break the law to engage with police officers,” one student says, with another adding that while he has seen several police cars patrolling the area, none of the officers have ever stopped to say hello or ask how his day was.
Without these types of interactions, they said, they worry about their future interactions with police officers. “Constantly we see stories, images and videos of Black men being killed at the hands of police,” one student says in the video. “You grow up with the fear that you’re going to be the next person.”
According to a 2019 study from Northwestern University, Black men are about 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of police officers than white men, and Black women are about 1.4 times more likely to die than white women. Additionally, the study shows, about one in 1,000 Black men can expect to be killed by the police.
“Those who are sworn to protect, those who are there to enforce the laws, are, ironically, killing us,” says Andrew Candio, a junior at the high school, “and we are sick and tired of this.”
Candio dreams of a world where he is not in jeopardy of losing his life when a police officer pulls him over, he says, adding that it is up to the police officers to build and regain that trust by letting the community know they are there to protect them and enforce the laws.
Still, Agesin said at a virtual town hall discussion with County Executive Laura Curran on Dec. 15 to promote the video, the effort police are already making to reach out to the Black community in Elmont “is not going unnoticed at all,” and Candio said he understands that real change can take a long time.
“I just hope this leads to further work and further reform,” Dougherty said of the video. “It’s a great step in the right direction, and now we just have to build on that.”
After speaking with the students, Curran said, “I feel really optimistic about the future.”