By Patrick Markey
An Irish-American priest based in the Bronx is playing a leading role in a New York task force trying to smooth tensions between police and the community after a series of fatal police shootings in the city.
Msgr. Charles Kavanagh is one of more than 90 religious leaders who form the clergy task force established by Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrera after four NYPD officers killed an unarmed African immigrant in the Bronx.
A native New Yorker, Kavanagh has been a regional vicar for the East Bronx area where Amadou Diallo was shot to death for more than a decade and was one of three clergy members who met with Police Commissioner Howard Safir on Wednesday to invite him to talk with the borough’s religious leaders next week.
Kavanagh said the meeting with the police department had been productive as clergy leaders tried to show the need for a more sensitive policing of minority and immigrant communities.
"These incidents only highlighted the need for more dialogue with the police. Our feeling was that the meeting was a constructive beginning," Kavanagh said.
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"Structures have to be put in place to redress tragedies like this, and look at how police procedure deals with approaching people and the use of that level of violence," he said.
Police and the religious leaders also talked over community concerns such as police training, outreach programs, sensitivity and supervision.
Diallo was gunned down in a fusillade of 41 bullets after the four Street Crime Unit officers mistakenly believed his wallet was a black handgun. The four officers were later acquitted of homicide charges following a controversial trial.
The police shooting of Patrick Dorismond after he allegedly struggled with a narcotics cop in Midtown Manhattan a few hours before St. Patrick’s Day has again heightened community tensions. The NYPD continues to come under fire for not reaching out to minority communities and pursuing overly aggressive arrest tactics.
Although he praised the work of the police department, Kavanagh said the current climate cannot allow a young black male to automatically become a suspect or an immigrant whose English is not fluent to be considered as resisting arrest because of language difficulties.
That would involve more outreach policing to ensure police know the community where they work, Kavanagh said. That is especially important in areas where police special task forces such as the Street Crime Unit operate, he said.
"They do important work, but they don’t know the community," Kavanagh said.