Letter from NY detectives’ union deepened divide in community, made it harder for students to speak up

To the editor:

Regarding the recent controversy, I write to express my support for Pelham Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ’s decision to ban apparel involving political speech. As a student who has been in the Pelham school district for several years, I, like many others, was under the impression that this, along with refusing to verbally share political ideology, was an agreed upon rule among all faculty members and was surprised to hear of faculty wearing apparel that can be construed as political. Many adults in different occupations cannot wear apparel that contains political speech. It is imperative that we extend this policy to our faculty, who spend their days around children.

According to the district’s code of conduct, “All District teachers and support personnel are expected to… Maintain a climate of mutual respect and dignity for all students regardless of actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender/gender identity, or sex, with an understanding of
appropriate appearance, language and behavior in a school setting, which will strengthen students’ self-image and promote confidence to learn.” For some students who complained, they found that wearing the thin blue line flag violated the sense of mutual respect listed in this policy thus making them feel unsafe.

In order to understand why this ban took place, we must first understand what prompted students to feel threatened by the flag. I recognize that the symbol is not meant to be seen as offensive, but it has evolved to be held in a negative context associated with the Blue Lives Matter movement. For many students of color, the thin blue line flag is a symbol that undermines the racist experiences they have had with police officers. Although for white students it is not a result of directly experiencing systemic racism, the symbol makes many of them uncomfortable as well.

I appreciate Pelham Manor Detective Paul Roberts’ acknowledgement of the unfavorable experiences that are not representative of Pelham Manor’s police force and his willingness to work to fix many students’ mistrust of the police because of said experiences. Unfortunately, Roberts’ attitude has not been demonstrated by many adults who have made comments on news platforms regarding this issue. The letter written to Champ by the Detectives’ Endowment Association is believed to be written out of passion that the ban on the sweatshirts was an apparent insult to the late Detective George Caccavale’s legacy. I acknowledge that I am in no place to decide whether Caccavale’s legacy was tarnished. The issue was with the flag’s symbolism, not with the memory of Caccavale.

However, in its letter, the Detectives’ Endowment Association insulted the intelligence of the students who complained and insinuated that their feelings toward the flag were invalid. These comments made by the detectives’ union, regardless of intent, only served to deepen the divide between the community. Instead, it has further exacerbated the situation, making it harder for students to speak up about issues that are bothering them. I say this to bring awareness to the consequences the letter’s rhetoric has on students. I was afraid to write this letter in fear that adults, not other students, would personally attack me, instead of politely disagreeing with my opinions. But, this letter is necessary to shed light on a few students’ perspectives in the midst of comments from many concerned adults on what is primarily a student matter.

It is disappointing that students felt that they had to go to Champ regarding their safety in school, but this situation has shown how crucial it is for our community to ensure the emotional safety of our students and simultaneously try to unify our town. Sweeping this issue under the rug in order to “move on” further contributes to feelings of isolation many people of color in the Pelham community have felt for years.

For an overwhelming number of people, their mistrust of the police did not stem from recent movements advocating for racial equality. Following the nationwide protests and racial forums in June, an increasing number of people have felt more comfortable sharing their experiences around racism, especially in a learning environment. I ask that everyone listen to how students are feeling in our schools, rather than question whether Champ is working towards a political agenda. We all need to work together so we can try to understand the students who feel unsafe seeing the thin blue line flag.

Nadine Leesang

519 Sixth Avenue

In support:

Katie D’Angelo

Alyssa Purcea

Layla Paras

Shanya Edmond

Ella Burns

Ellie Scola

Kezia Ranger

Nya Haseley-Ayende

Marlen Singh

Jasmine Zaman

Ahmad Deribe

Audrey Snarr

Haley Wall

Laila R. Polito

Shayna Corpas