Manor Republican saddened mayor refuses to comply with Cuomo order on review of racism in local police

To the editor:

My name is Stephen Tahbaz, and I am a Pelham Memorial High School graduate from the class of 2020. I write today as a resident of Pelham Manor with great concern for how my elected officials are currently governing our town. I would first like to disclose that I am a proud registered Republican, the former vice president of the PMHS Young Republicans Club and have always been an ardent supporter of the Republican candidates that have run for office in Pelham. The last time I wrote to this publication was to endorse the Honorable John DeChiaro in his bid for reelection. I say this not as some sort of disclaimer about bias or opinion, but rather to underscore the apolitical nature of this issue, and to give crucial context for my view. Here are the facts.

On June 12, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order 203, “New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.” I’ve linked it so it can be read verbatim. The general goal of the order is to face head-on the longstanding issues between police and Black, indigenous and people of color in New York, recognizing the fundamental flaws that were illuminated across the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. There are some key specifics outlined in the order that, as citizens of a small town, are essential to note. Cuomo rules that each local government that maintains a police agency must review their policing practices and develop new strategies to foster trust and fairness and to address any problems with racial bias. The order also rules that the chief executive of each town—in the case of Pelham Manor, the mayor—must form a committee that engages both the police chief and members of the community to formulate this plan. At its core, the order is aiming to foster community policing, or as safe towns in America without historical problems with racist criminal justice refer to it, policing.

I would now like to clarify one fact, and remind Pelham Manor residents of another. Fact One: I am specifically writing this letter as a resident of Pelham Manor because this isn’t relevant to the Village of Pelham. Mayor Chance Mullen, who I helped campaign against in his bid for office, has complied with the executive order, and has started to take active steps to better police and community relations in the village. Fact Two: Pelham Manor has not always been immune from problems with racist policing. I have in the past been an ardent supporter of our cops, have fostered great relationships with many of them and am generally very grateful for the experiences I’ve had with the Pelham Manor Police Department. Yet, time and time again, I find myself hearing disgraceful stories from BIPOC residents of both the Manor and the Village concerning negative interactions with the PMPD. If you don’t believe me, simply Google “Pelham Manor Police Racist.” You can text me at (914) 282-9840 when you spot the problem.

It is foolish to not see the issue. As a resident of Pelham Manor, I am saddened to see our elected officials actively defy New York State law. By not complying with Executive Order 203, as required by the governor, our village government is working directly against the interests of the state. The letter I am writing to the editor has essentially already been written, with my family as signatories. I’ve linked it here, so it can be read verbatim as well. The letter was sent to the mayor of Pelham Manor, requesting compliance with state law, as the Village of Pelham did weeks ago. Pelham Manor Mayor Jennifer Monachino Lapey responded by acknowledging the letter and restating her commitment to strong police practices, and sharing that the PMPD has been participating in a countywide initiative to change for the better. And that’s it.

There has still been no action by the Manor to form the committee as directed by the state. I truly believe in our government officials and in our police. It seems so simple to both comply with the law and better our town in a productive way, yet no action has been taken. So, I do not write today to Lapey or the trustees of Pelham Manor. I write to you, the reader. I ask this: Do you want to live in a town where our elected officials defy a mandated order? If our neighbors have already complied, why can’t the Manor do the same? What is so wrong with finally coming to terms with our deep-seated racial issues and facing them, not as requested but as demanded? Why is this the law that our officials have chosen to ignore? I will say it loud and clear: Our elected officials, people I believed in, are choosing to neglect state law in order to avoid confronting a longstanding issue of racism to maintain the status quo. It is said that actions speak louder than words. I now know that inaction certainly speaks louder than action.

Stephen Tahbaz

414 Monterey Avenue