New Paltz police officer Robert Sisco has apologized for a rap video posted to social media in the spring that led to local protests and counter-protests, as well as nationwide news coverage. The apology was made during the police commission meeting held online on November 19. At least one member of a community targeted in that video has been willing to accept it.
The video showed Sisco, in town police uniform and vehicle, reciting an original rap that touched on the race- and police-related tensions that were ramping up all over the country in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. A portion of the lyrics referenced the inherent tension about being both a police officer and black, and Sisco also expresses a preference for nonviolent resolution of conflict.
But that’s not what caused blowback to this performance piece. The lyrics expressed opinions on a number of politically charged issues, including a desire to prosecute Hillary Clinton for treason, support for conspiracy theories around the origin of the coronavirus pandemic and the death of sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, and a clear declaration that humans have only two valid genders. That last part was largely viewed as transphobic, and supporters for these oft-maligned individuals made their displeasure known.
Sisco was taken off of active duty and ultimately suspended without pay. The police contract includes a provision that a third party make the determination that he be fired, and Sisco’s job was spared after arbitration.
Sisco had previously never had an opportunity to speak at a public meeting about the incident, and he chose to apologize in several parts, with the first directed to fellow officers. “I took an oath, and should have considered the impact,” he said. His actions making it harder for other officers in the department during a time when law-enforcement personnel have been under a high level of scrutiny.
Next up were the residents of New Paltz generally: “My lack of judgment hurt me, and the community, and made people feel unsafe, and attracted national attention to our quiet town, and not in a good way. I am truly sorry.” It’s not the relationship Sisco wants to have with residents of New Paltz. The officer recalled having watched children grow up and life-altering events, performed CPR, helped residents into rehab (and taken pics with them), among other things.
The members of the LGBT community were reserved for the final portion. Sisco recalled reading the various things written about the incident. “Your words did not fall on deaf ears,” they were told, and the calls for termination and more hateful things posted were “deserved” in part because “I was ignorant.” The officer made it clear that ignorance was not an excuse, and acknowledged, “I should have been more sensitive to others. I was ignorant and I was hurtful.”
Sisco went on to say his apology meant nothing without his actions to back it up.” That begins with making efforts to earn back trust lost in the community. “I’m really, really trying.” Acknowledging that “a lot of issues” have arisen because of this video, Sisco wants to “use my notoriety to do good for a cause,” to ensure that New Paltz is as safe and welcoming to trans people as it is to anyone else. “I am pitching ideas to work on this,” and “taking it one day at a time.” The officer closed with, “I am truly sorry.”
The officer’s remarks can be found in the online video of the Nov. 19 town board meeting starting just after the 5:20 mark.
Supervisor Neil Bettez gave time for comment by Eve Papp, who during a heated meeting earlier this year had publicly offered to meet and talk with Sisco about the response to the rap video. That meeting occurred, and was followed by several conversations on the phone.
Papp described some of what Sisco may have learned during those talks about life as a trans person: loss of friends, people staring and yelling, the awareness that trans people were victims of murder and violence at a very high rate. Friday was Trans Day of Remembrance, a time to acknowledge the disproportionate target of trans people that has been observed since 1999.
“New Paltz is only a mirage,” Papp said. The community was the site of some of the first same-sex marriages in the country and has a pride parade that is enviable, “the parade is my only day, and the nearest center is in Kingston.” Papp said of Sisco, “Rob is learning, and trying to change.”
The video brings legitimacy to the words used because of the power and authority wielded by a police officer. One step to mitigate that harm, Papp felt, would be to work toward creating an LGBT center in New Paltz, a place to help that portion of the community congregate with those of like mind. “We need a place for people to meet, and get resources when they kicked out and have nowhere to turn, and to find our community.”
This would show that New Paltz is town where trans people were supported, “and bigotry has no home.”
Papp endorsed the sincerity of Sisco’s apology, but was clear that no individual can speak for the entire community.