Officers protest hiring practices

Nearby, others hold counter-protest, lauding recruitment of blacks

April 12, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Several African-American city police officers and state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV held a news conference outside City Hall yesterday, criticizing Police Department efforts in hiring and promoting black officers.

Two hundred feet away, more than three dozen African-American officers -- including several commanders, the deputy police commissioner, the president of the Vanguard Justice Society and president of the city police union -- held a counter-protest, saying the situation in the department has improved during the past two years.

The protesters were led by Officer Shirley Onyango and Lt. Robert Richards, founders of the group ANSWER, an acronym for "And Still We Rise."

Richards and Onyango said the department has not done enough to promote blacks to key leadership positions. They also said there are fewer high-ranking black commanders than under former Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.

They said there are two black colonels vs. four in 1996, and nine black majors and directors of units vs. 13 in 1996. They also said black lieutenants are being unfairly disciplined.

Police officials disputed some of the statistics, saying they have 10 majors and directors who are African-American and one who is Hispanic. Also, four of the city's nine district commanders are minorities, as is the second-highest commander, acting Deputy Commissioner Kenneth Blackwell, who is black.

Police officials said they have increased minority hiring, particularly of blacks. In 1999, the department hired 95 blacks. Last year, the agency hired 135.

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris called those holding the protest "idiots," adding: "These guys don't speak for any police officers. They speak for themselves. It's distracting."

Sgt. Richard A. Hite Jr., president of the Vanguard Justice Society, which represents black officers, said the protesters are "disgruntled officers" with "personal agendas." Richards, he noted, was recently removed from his command of the helicopter unit.

Onyango has spent much of her career on limited duty because of various ailments, officials said. She has requested to become a sergeant, but Norris said yesterday "that will never happen" because she has not spent enough time on patrol.

Onyango has said she is being denied promotion because she spoke out against racist practices in the department.

Police officials also noted that one of the protesters was John M. Mack, a lieutenant who was fired last year for being caught on-duty in a "whorehouse."

Hite said he feared that the protesters "will encourage anarchy in the city" and "taint the minds of young officers."

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