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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

New book focuses on policing in Syracuse's Near Westside neighborhood

The book was edited by a Syracuse University graduate student

Feb. 1, 2012, by Judy Holmes

Cover of I Witness
Cover of I Witness
“Like the surveillance cameras looking down from on high, the police who answer calls in the neighborhood see the residents from a distance.” –Gifford Street Community Press Editorial Board.

The Gifford Street Community Press recently celebrated the publication of its second book, I Witness: Perspectives on Policing in the Near Westside. The Press published Home: Journeys into the Westside in August 2011.

In a series of sometimes-poignant—yet ultimately hopeful—essays,  I Witness brings together the voices of people who live in Syracuse’s Near Westside, the police who patrol the neighborhood, and people working in organizations that serve the community. “This book grew out of tension, but arcs toward dialogue and understanding,” writes Ben Kuebrich, editor. “The goal is to give witness to the many perspectives on policing in the neighborhood.”

Kuebrich is a graduate student in the Department of Writing’s Composition and Cultural Rhetoric Program in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. He spent the past two years working with the Gifford Street Community Press Editorial Board to identify residents, community workers, and police officers willing to share their stories. His faculty advisor is Steve Parks, associate professor of writing and rhetoric.

“(I Witness) is a powerful reminder that truly seeing reality requires looking at it from many perspectives, some of which appear to be contradictory,” write the members of the Gifford Street Press Editorial Board in the book’s introduction. “Rather than speaking truth to power, this book speaks truth to fear. One of the things that we believe must change before progress can happen is the terrible relationship between police and community. Hearts and minds on both sides need to be changed. This book is the beginning of that process.”

The Gifford Street Community Press was created in 2010 to provide a venue for the multilingual and multicultural voices of Westside residents to be heard and shared. The Press collaborates with the Westside Residents Coalition (WRC), the Syracuse Alliance for a New Economy (SANE), and SU’s Writing Program.

The idea for the book took root two years ago as part of a collaborative effort among the WRC, SANE, SU’s Near Westside Initiative, and the newly formed Police Delegation to promote dialogue between the residents and the Syracuse City Police Department. Led by the Police Delegation, residents began to meet regularly with First Deputy Police Chief David Barrette to air grievances and resolve differences. Barrette’s essay, “Police/Community Relations: A Work in Progress,” is included in the book.

“Communication is key to improving relationships, including the relationship between the police and the community,” Barrette says. “I hope that (I Witness) will be another form of communication that will contribute to the improvement of the police/community relationship on the Westside.”

Members of the Gifford Street Community Press Editorial Board are: Gary Bonaparte, Mother Earth, Susan Hamilton, Steve Parks, Isaac Rothwell, and Richard Vallejo. The book includes illustrations by community artists Juan Cruz and Chaz Griffin.
Book excerpts:

“People are afraid to call the police on little things.  . . . You can’t be afraid to talk to us and call us. But, you know, people have bad police stories . . . they usually only see us for a bad reason.” –“Come Talk to Us,” an interview with Officer Todd Mooney.

“The police sometimes, when they greet (young people), they’re not talking to them like ‘How you doing young man?’ or ‘Hello Sir.’ They’re like, ‘What are you doing!? Why are you over here!? Where are you going!?’ They don’t have to be so aggressive.” – “Time to Step Up and Make That Change,” an interview with Cherise Hunter.

“I’ve seen (police) hassle someone, just for the fun of it, just for something to do.  . . . They go through the stop sign doing 30-40 mph, increasing speed until they get to Geddes.  . . . (The officer) said ‘We’re the police, automotive laws do not apply to us.’ ” – “Collateral Damage is Not Acceptable,” an interview with Yona Curran.

“When you ride down the street and you see these people walking and going about they day, give them a nice wave. You know what you can get out of that?” – “I Can Imagine a World Without Crime,” an interview with Mother Jones.