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Citizen members of police advisory group hope dialogue results in greater respect for all

By Mike Pettinella

Eight of the 20 "resident" members of the City Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group are diverse Batavians who say they desire to build a bridge between citizens and law enforcement that will lead to a safe and healthy community for all.

“Obviously, there’s a problem going on with police in America so I want to be a part of the solution, starting with that, if I can be,” said Brandon Armstrong, owner of Royal’s Barber Shop at 56 Harvester Ave. “And other than that, I pretty much want to help out in the community to make sure they’re (police) doing their part and to make sure the community is safe.”

Armstrong, one of three members of Just Kings Social Club, a local organization formed to foster equality and racial justice, also brought up the issue of respect.

“I want to make sure we’re being treated properly and we’re not living as if we’re in a prison or living in fear in our own hometown,” he offered. “I just want to be a little more comfortable.”

Francis Marchese, a semi-retired certified public accountant, said he is eager to see what comes out of the group discussions. The first meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at City Centre Council Chambers.

“I have lived in Batavia all my life and I feel that I will be able to help format a better condition for the City of Batavia and for the people who live here – that my voice may be heard,” he said. “I want to listen to what the group has to say … a group made up of people of different nationalities and to see what their consensus is and to see what they really want to accomplish.”

Marchese acknowledged “a lot of injustice in cities … but I also feel that no matter what the people department does, (the perception is that) they’re in the wrong – and that’s not right either.”

Victor Thomas, an employee of Western New York Concrete and Just Kings member, said he wants to be involved in “something that could help my community” and is pleased that the committee includes several citizens and not just law enforcement or government and civic officials.

“It’s a great place to start,” he said. “I hope to get a better understanding of how police officers view something and to bring issues to them that they may or may not be aware of. It’s definitely a challenge but I’m looking forward to it.”

For Raelene Christian, a retired NYS employee, the advisory group could be a way to restore community policing the way that her mother, City Council member Rose Mary Christian, remembers it.

“I believe that our police in our nation are being vilified, but the vast majority are good, hard-working people who just want to do their jobs … to serve and protect. Of course, there are bad officers, so I’m not saying there isn’t room for community policing,” she said. “In the old days, my mother knew all of the police officers. So, how do we get back there? Today, there is a lot of mistrust.”

Bill Hayes, owner Turnbull Heating & Air and active community member, said serving on the advisory group is a way that he can “give back to the county and city that have been very good to me” over the past 30 years.

“When I was in the service, there was no black, white, Hispanic – everybody mattered and we need to believe that in order to stand by it,” he said. “There are three stories to be told, and the third one is what are you going to do about it?”

He said that he is there for people to lean on, if necessary, and to hear others’ viewpoints.

“Hopefully, I can help. If not, I’ll leave the board,” he said. “I didn’t sign up to just be on another committee.”

Establishing a rapport with the police is vital to Gregory Munroe II, a Pioneer Credit Recovery employee and Just Kings representative.

“I am looking to learn how Batavia works and if something terrible (police action leading to tragedy) ever happened in Batavia -- and I sure hope it never does -- to make sure there is accountability,” he said. “I want see Batavia stay as safe as it is and even safer. It’s important to build the connection between police and the community.”

On having three Just Kings members in the group, he said the “city has embraced our group for the most part … and we’re heading in the right direction.”

Michael Henry, lifelong Batavian who works at the DePaul residence in Warsaw, said support and accountability go hand in hand.

“I want to know that the police are doing the best that they are capable of and have what they need to do their best, and also to make sure there is a measure of accountability,” he said.

The Batavian was unable to reach Bill Blackshear, who like Henry was added to the group earlier today.

Blackshear has spoken in favor of increased dialogue among different racial groups and law enforcement in the past, including a 2017 plea to City Council to act to bring citizens together “for a better communication and a better understanding of each other.”

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