A pioneering African-American Kingston cop and onetime police commissioner will be honored with a ceremonial street renaming and a plaque at KPD headquarters. The recognition of Junious “Junie” Harris II, who died last year at the age of 86, follows a campaign by his grandson to honor his grandfather’s legacy and long list of civic accomplishments.
“Junie was a longtime police officer, police commissioner and an all-around amazing citizen of Ward 4,” said Mayor Steve Noble. “I think this is a fitting tribute.”
On Tuesday, April 2 the Kingston Common Council voted unanimously to add signage designating Furnace Street “Junious Harris Way.” Harris lived on Furnace Street for 52 years. Even when he wasn’t walking the beat, Harris served as a stabilizing presence in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.
“He never wanted to leave, that was his home,” said Anthony Harris of his grandfather’s decision to remain on Furnace Street, even after an incident a few years ago when his parked car was struck by stray bullets in a neighborhood shootout. “People in the neighborhood knew him and respected him. His presence deterred some people from doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”
Harris graduated from Kingston High School in 1951, joined the Air Force and served in Okinawa during the Korean War. There, Anthony Harris said, he defied military custom that relegated black airmen to working in the kitchen. His pioneering spirit continued when he returned to his hometown. In the early 1960s, he became one of Kingston’s first black police officers. Over the course of his three decades-long career at the KPD, Harris helped organize the Kingston Patrolman’s Association and served on the board of the Kingston Boys Club. In 1976, he helped found the Kingston Police Athletic League and organized PAL-sponsored boxing matches featuring big-name talent like Floyd Patterson and Harris’ neighbor, WBC junior welterweight champion Billy Costello.
Throughout his career, Anthony Harris said, his grandfather sought to break down barriers for minority youth in law enforcement. While working as a KPD detective, he headed up an initiative by former chief James Riggins to recruit black police officers. Later, when he left the KPD to work as a special investigator for the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office, Harris set up an internship program for minority youth interested in the law and served on the criminal justice advisory committee of Ulster BOCES. All the while, Anthony Harris said, his grandfather served as a source of front-porch wisdom for residents of Midtown Kingston.
“The biggest thing he loved was walking the beat and getting to know people, he really instilled the mindset that he was a man of the people,” said Anthony Harris. “He would sit on the front porch and people would stop by to seek his advice because he was respected in the community.”
Anthony Harris has spent the past few years raising money and lobbying city officials to honor his grandfather’s legacy. In addition to the street renaming, Harris raised money for a memorial plaque at Kingston police headquarters on Garraghan Drive, and to endow an annual scholarship program for minority youth at Kingston High School interested in a career in law enforcement.
“The whole time I’ve been working on this I was just so happy to see the response I got from everybody,” said Anthony Harris. “It’s just incredible how many people I’ve talked to who knew my grandfather and say he had a positive impact on their lives.”