West Siders Take to the Street for an Open Air Town Hall

By Renée Roden

A town hall unlike anything seen on the Upper West Side in recent years took place on West End Avenue on Tuesday night, with politicians and energized citizens calling out concerns and possible solutions.

From 5:30 to 7 p.m., the group gathered outside St. Paul and St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church on West End Avenue from 86th Street to 87th Street for a socially-distant outdoor town hall. A steady stream of engaged community members, some activists with signs, and curious passersby kept the block filled throughout the event.

The Town Hall was organized and held by Rev. Lea Matthews, associate pastor of the church. She said that their community of 600 is “an activist congregation that has faith of the feet.” Their community has been staying actively involved in the movement for racial justice with an “Action a Day” program.

Edafe Okporo, Director of RDJ Refugee Shelter, opened with an impassioned speech on the plight of African and Black refugees in the United States. Okporo stated that immigrants often lived in “over-policed communities…and face deportation for even the most minor of offenses.”

After Okporo, Anthony Perez, a community organizer from Faith in New York spoke about taking advantage of this moment and not losing momentum in the community to seek change. “This time may not come again unless we keep it going,” he said.

State Senator Robert Jackson spoke next about initiatives in Albany to transform and reform the NYPD. He also spoke about the budget reforms that would move one billion of the police’s budget dollars to programs for housing, education, and youth development.

Jackson answered several questions. Members of their crowds raised their hands to ask questions and tried to make themselves heard through their masks.

Following Senator Jackson, Council Member Helen Rosenthal spoke about de-militarizing the police, “Why do we need people with guns to keep us safe?” She highlighted six resolutions currently scheduled to be discussed in the City Council Committee on Public Safety, which include a chokehold ban and the right of citizens to record the police.

Members of the crowd voiced their concerns and questions at Council Member Rosenthal after her prepared remarks. One community member, a self-identified 40-year-old Black man, repeated his distress at the state of affairs: “I don’t wanna die. I’m scared every day I’m gonna die, I’m gonna get shot.”

Rabbi Lauren Herrmann led a closing prayer, offering up the names of the slain Black men and women that the protestors have been chanting: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor.

Finally, the crowd burst into the spring tradition of Upper West Side solidarity: the customary Upper West Side 7 PM cheer for essential workers.

A bagpiper played at 7 p.m.

The town hall participants had clearly prepared for this moment, equipped with bells, a vuvuzela and even a bagpiper. Rev. K Harlan had invited the local bagpiper, who closed the town hall with Amazing Grace.

Photos by Renée Roden.

NEWS | 25 comments | permalink
    1. LK says:

      Following Senator Jackson, Council Member Helen Rosenthal spoke about de-militarizing the police, “Why do we need people with guns to keep us safe?”

      Good question. Maybe because there were 38 murders in the last 4 weeks compared to the 19 last year. The highest rate of increase in decades. Maybe because people don’t obey police and assault them and are released back into the wild.

      With the bail reform + criminals released due to covid the surge in crime is expected. You got looting to go with it – still no clue. Now you want to have a new slogan – ‘disarm the police’? These people are trying to outdo each other – are you paying attention? Primaries are here – let’s vote these clowns out!

    2. oldtimeUWSer says:

      “Why do we need people with guns to keep us safe?” Maybe she should ask former council member James Davis, or rather, his family.

    3. Michael K says:

      I know very little about policing and law enforcement other than a sense that way too many people are getting killed by police for seemingly minor infractions. Three minutes of internet research shows that gun deaths caused by the police in the United States VASTLY outnumbers other countries. For example, in 2015 1187 people were shot and killed by police in US, 8 people were shot and killed by NYPD alone while 10 people were shot and killed by police in ALL of Germany and 3 people in ALL of England/Wales. Unlike other countries, the US government does not track or keep records of gun killings by police. Other countries have figured out ways to reduce gun killings by police without disproportionate outbreaks of crime. People who are protesting are asking/demanding whether the US/NYPD can do better and other countries show that it is possible.


    4. Daniel A says:

      Police in England don’t carry guns. Their homicide rate is lower than ours. Why don’t we have community helpers circulating on foot looking for opportunities to serve the community and who are alert for occasional trouble. Instead we have heavily armed “patrols” driving through our communities with the windows rolled up. How is that making us safer? If a criminal was dumb enough to be spotted from the patrol car, our officers are so burdened by weapons and war gear, they couldn’t chase a criminal half a block. We are outsourcing social work like homelessness and addiction outreach to cops with guns. Why?

      • ben says:

        For starters, the UK has much stricter gun laws where not everyone and their second cousin can get guns by walking into a Walmart.

        • janis says:

          Most of the murders are not being committed by people who can “get guns by walking into a Walmart,” but by illegal guns in cities that have the strictest gun control laws. i.e. Chicago, NYC. NYC residents can’t just walk into a Walmart and buy a gun. Hell, we don’t even HAVE a Walmart to walk into. (Thank you Liberal politicians.)
          Helen Rosenthal needs to go. She is obviously too naïve to represent people who are living in a City that is becoming more and more unlivable each day.

          • rjws says:

            why is Helen still here?
            who votes for her?
            deblasio wins first term, then all the fools who voted for him a second term or those who didn’t vote..Shame on all of us.

        • cc says:

          The UKers might not have guns but they do have knives and they do use them.

      • Brie Hoffman says:

        Did you know that London surpassed Manhattan in knife attacks last year? You don’t need guns to kill people.

    5. NativeNYCer says:

      The sad thing about these misguided people is that while they have their meeting on West End Avenue in safety they’re advocating reducing police that protect minority communities where crime and violence are an everyday problem. NYC’s murder rate was the lowest it has ever been until all this nonsense started. Now the people that these white guilt-ridden virue signallers think they’re helping will suffer even more.

    6. C says:

      Occupy West Side. One step closer.

    7. ben says:

      Yes, DO de-militarize the police. But you can’t possibly take away their guns too without fundamentally changing gun laws in the country. If there’s one thing that’s even harder to achieve than police reform, it’s gun law reform. You can’t expect the police (or anyone for that matter) to fight gun wielding baddies with sticks and stones.

    8. Rob G. says:

      “Why do we need people with guns to keep us safe?” Helen asks. For one thing, Helen, the criminals and thugs in our midst are not asking themselves, “Why do we need guns to rob, rape, and murder people?”

      It’s getting more insane every day out there in Wokeville.

    9. UpperWester says:

      I have never entertained the idea of owning a handgun for self defense, but if the police can’t carry weapons….perhaps I may have to.

    10. Chris says:

      An activist congregation can loose their tax exempt status.

    11. mkmuws says:

      More anecdotal nonsense from the conservative UWS. We get it, you don’t understand policy and reform. And I highly doubt most of you would arm yourselves, give me a break. The world will move on without you. But you can keep coming here to complain.

      • Woody says:

        The UWS conservatives are starting to flee the neighborhood and their tax revenue with them.

        So I think you need us much more than we need you.

    12. Sue says:

      Whatever happened to respect? If someone is stopped by police, cooperate, and do not resist arrest. What about respect for the law, and not committing crimes? Our city is destroyed by the violence, robbing, looting, and rise in other crime now. Store after store is boarded up in every neighborhood. Many city residents have left for truly greener pastures, most will not return.
      With the recent no-bail “reform”, most of these criminals were/are released back on the street within hours. There is no deterrent to committing a crime anymore.
      Yes, elections have consequences…everyone negatively critiquing our city and state leadership, how many actually voted?

    13. Bloomie says:

      RE: “Why do we need people with guns to keep us safe?”

      Surely somebody on your staff has told you, that some of the bad people out there have guns. That’s why.

    14. ConcernedUWSider says:

      Helen Rosenthal & Corey Johnson, all you do is seek your own glory and have done nothing to make this city better. VOTE THEM OUT and VOTE IN BETTER.

    15. Jonathan says:

      Defunding the police with crime now more prevalent on our UWS streets is frankly an absurd and stupid notion. If that is Helen Rosenthal’s position, who is standing against Helen Rosenthal so that they may get my vote & what is their platform?