New Paltz Town Board members have announced the five residents who will reboot the police commission as a volunteer board, but not until after they were told that they were doing a bad job managing police-race issues overall — including by choosing commissioners before completing prerequisite work on themselves.
Announced as the short list are Cindy Sanchez, Karrie Rahaman-Bunce, Janice Butcher, Tara Fitzpatrick and Steven Ford. The five have been asked to attend the next meeting, at which time their appointments will be voted upon and their terms shall begin.
Limina Grace Harmon, a member of the local Reform and Reinvention Committee mandated by the prior governor, took Town Board members to task during the public comment session of last week’s board meeting. Reinvention group members did recommend names from the list of those who had been interviewed, but only with “concern and disappointment.” That’s because “we laid out carefully thought-out, clear time lines” for a broad swath of recommendations to address the systemic racism that informs police engagement throughout the United States, including in New Paltz. The stark disparity in how suspects of different racism experience police encounters, which was given national attention after the killing of George Floyd, was central to the executive order requiring a review of all local police departments — while exempting all forms of state police.
In New Paltz, Reinvention Committee members fully support returning the Police Commission to a group appointed by Town Board members, rather than being those elected officials meeting at a different time, but they evidently felt that the selection process could be tinged by systemic racism. That’s why the “first priority was for every Town Board member to take Undoing Racism,” explained Harmon, “but we see none of them will do so.” The resistance has included exploring other anti-racism programming that might not cost several hundred dollars per person, and sending one or two members to get a sense of the course. “You simply are not qualified to make such a determination,” Harmon said. This program would only cover the rudimentary concepts of anti-racism work, barely scratching the surface of the impacts of several hundred years of enslavement followed by another century and a half of actively forcing those victims and their descendants to the margins of society. “It’s a matter of hygiene.”
“We commend your sense of urgency [to appoint commissioners], but feel it necessary to remind you of the totality of your commitments,” Harmon continued, also asserting that attempts to hold council members accountable — as they previously requested — have been met with claims of being held to unfairly high standards.
Harmon also held the board members accountable for the low number of interested residents, saying that more could have been done to publicize these efforts.