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How Soccer Restored the NYPD's Relationship With Harlem's African Community

By Gustavo Solis | October 22, 2014 7:26am
 To help restore the relationship between Harlem's African community and the 28th Precinct, community and police leaders decided to hold a soccer game.
Little Africa Versus The NYPD
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HARLEM — A group of African immigrants beat police officers from the 28th Precinct Monday night in Marcus Garvey Park.

Afterwards, they all had pizza.

The two groups squared off for the second time in as many months in a friendly soccer match between members of Harlem’s African community and the local precinct.

Team Little Africa has won each game by a score of 4 to 2.

“It is great for the community,” said Imam Souleimane Kanote, who helped organize the games. “The day after the [first] game officers stopped me on the street saying ‘Imam what a great game.’”

The idea for the soccer game came from a meeting between the imam and the 28th Precinct’s new commanding officer, Nigerian-born Olufunmilo F. Obe, earlier this year. 

During the conversation, Konate told Obe about some of the tension between the NYPD and the African community after the 2012 killing of Guinean college student Mohamed Bah.

Since she took over the precinct in April, Obe has made community outreach one of her top priorities.

Obe’s precinct is part of Operation Impact, which partners up new officers with community leaders. She also started using Twitter as part of a city-wide campaign to engage the public.

So the deputy inspector jumped at another opportunity to engage her neighbors.

“This game is really all about building relationships,” Obe said. “Everyone is happy, I think it is great to see the community and the police working together.”

The first game in September was such a success that they decided to hold a second one Monday.

The rematch at Marcus Garvey Park was announced on a French radio program that many Senegalese nationals living in Harlem tune in to. Two African News outlets filmed the match. 

Team Little Africa was made up of players from Senegal, Ivory Coast and Mali. They are businessmen, students, cab drivers, barbers and street vendors. 

On the field, the players were able to push and shove police officers as they wrestled the opposition away from the goal. They weren’t afraid to slide tackle someone that could arrest them the next day.

“It’s nice because we always see them on the street,” said Lamine Soumahoro of team Little Africa. “It is a fun experience. When I see them again I will say, 'Hi.'”

The first half ended 0-0. But the police officers could not keep Little Africa away from their goal during the second half. They quickly went up 4-0.

Konate celebrated each goal with a victory dance — right in front of Obe's face.

About midway through the second half, when the score was 4–0, the commanding officer tried to rally her officers with a “No Zeros for Heroes” chant.

Seeing team Little Africa play with the NYPD was something special for people who remember the Bah incident from two years ago. Police shot and killed the emotionally disturbed 28-year-old inside his Morningside Avenue flat as he stabbed at officers with a foot-long knife in September 2012.

"It was a difficult situation, " said Papa Sette Drame, president of the Association of the Senegalese in America, of the shooting. "This is good. It's good for the police to meet our young people."

The officers also benefit from playing in the game, police said. Seeing soccer competitors off the field can make patrol shifts feel a little friendlier, one officer said.

“It’s great to be able to interact with people like this,” said a rookie who was not authorized to give his name. “You see them in the street and you build a relationship you didn’t have before.”