QUEENS — Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday that "the unequal nature of the relationship" between African Americans and police "must not be denied," and that "many of the worst parts of Black history would have been impossible without police," including slavery.
Bratton, who addressed the predominantly African-American crowd during a Black History Month event held at The Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York, said that while police have played crucial role in maintaining civil rights and freedom of speech, "many of the worst parts of Black history would have been impossible without police, too."
“Slavery, our country’s original sin, sat on a foundation codified by laws and enforced by police, by slave catchers,” he said.
The phrase "slave catchers" was not included in the written version of the remarks sent out later by the NYPD press office. A spokesman for the department said that the version represented prepared remarks, and was not a transcript of Bratton's speech.
The police commissioner also said that in New York the history of police and Black citizens have been intertwined ever since Dutch settler Peter Stuyvesant came to New Amsterdam.
Bratton said that one of the first things that Stuyvesant did was creating a police force. Then, Bratton said, he used slaves to build the colony.
“Since then, the stories of police and Black citizens have intertwined again and again,” he said. “The unequal nature of that relationship cannot and must not be denied.”
Bratton, speaking at the church led by Rev. Floyd Flake, a former congressman from Southeast Queens, also praised the NYPD's accomplishment. Since 1993, he said, major crime in the city dropped by 75 percent.
Citing statistics that NYPD officers use force in 2 out of every 100 arrests, mostly in cases of resisting arrest, he noted that the department is one of the "most restrained in the country."
He also said that last year police officers in the 35,000-member NYPD, "intentionally used the fire arms" in only 42 instances.
But still, he said, referring to the events in Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown was killed by a police officer, and the death of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold by an officer in Staten Island last year, “police actions can still be a flashpoint."
But he also noted that police have been working on providing better training for officers.
Following a report by NY1 that the number of African Americans on the force has been shrinking, Bratton also said that the department is working on recruiting a more diverse group of officers.
He noted that police need community's support to be successful.
"We cannot change the past, but working together we can change the future," he said.