Mayor Myrick at a police press conference in January. (Courtesy of the mayor's Facebook page)

Ithaca, N.Y. — Mayor Svante Myrick gave a wide-ranging interview on WHCU Radio Saturday morning about an Ithaca police sergeant’s decision to pull his weapon on four unarmed minority teens.

(Click here for the Ithaca Voice story last night that brought the incident to light.)

We’ve put together a list of 11 things we learned from the mayor’s interview:

Mayor Myrick at a police press conference in January. (Courtesy of the mayor’s Facebook page)
Mayor Myrick at a police press conference in January. (Courtesy of the mayor’s Facebook page)

1 — The sergeant who pulled his weapon will not be suspended during the investigation.

Myrick said: “We presume innocence … we do that for citizens, we do that for officers.” No action will be taken against the police sergeant until the investigations into what happened are complete.

2 — Myrick vouches for the sergeant’s record.

During the interview, Myrick spoke generally about the difficulty of police work.

“We have six officers on the street 24 hours a day, thousands and thousands of of interactions per year and most go so well that the police department has earned and deserves our respect,” Myrick said, “and this sergeant, in fact, I know to be a good officer with a great record, so he also earns our respect.”

3 — He explained why it took several days for the incident to be disclosed.

Myrick said disclosure of the incident and the ensuing “firestorm” makes it more difficult for authorities to get to the bottom of what happened.

He explained why officials withheld the information.

“We didn’t have the facts and often this kind of attention can make it harder to maintain the integrity of the investigation,” Myrick said. “It makes it harder to verify the integrity of any witnesses that come forward.”

Myrick said he also didn’t want to put the teens front and center of a public controversy.

“We wanted to respect the privacy of these young men,” he said.

4 — However, officials were forced to issue a statement about what happened because of swirling public conversations.

Before authorities said what happened, a Facebook group called United Against Hate saw several furious posts about the incident. The Voice contacted the mayor yesterday about these posts.

“After I saw that page on Facebook is when I decided to release a public statement,” Myrick said.

5 — Still, Myrick wishes that group had checked with him before posting about the incident.

Myrick and the police chief had already met with the family and were investigating the issue when the Facebook group began posting reports about what had happened.

He said if the upset residents had talked to authorities before posting, the firestorm, and therefore the potential compromise to the investigation, could have been avoided.

“I think if they had checked with us and found out that we were well on our way to to get at the truth … maybe they wouldn’t” have posted about the incident, Myrick said.

6 — Myrick would not rule out the teens as suspects in the arson.

The investigation into the two vehicle fires that sparked the incident is ongoing. Myrick would not rule out that the teens were suspects in the arson.

“That’s an ongoing investigation; I really can’t say without compromising the integrity of the investigation,” he said in response to questions from WHCU.

7 — Myrick, as he did last night, touched on the difficulty for young black men when confronted by police.

He did so in response to the following question from WHCU: “You’re a black man. And you’ve had run-ins, well I don’t know about run-ins, but you had to interact with the police long before you were mayor.

It seems to me ultimately — I don’t see any case of racial bias, as the parents claim, but fears of safety. Fear of safety from the community of color about their own law enforcement and fears of safety from law enforcement about their own safety, which has to be a priority when they’re on the beat. What role does race play in any of this other than perhaps making it bigger than issues of just safety?”

Myrick responded that race is important. He said his parents and grandparents brought him up to learn about Jim Crow and the history of abuse between cops and young black men.

“If you are black it’s hard to explain what runs through your mind,” Myrick said, referencing the death of Trayvon Martin.

“It’s hard to not say to yourself, could that be me?”

8 — Myrick does not think comparisons with Ferguson are unfair.

The interview was amicable, but Myrick and the radio host appeared to disagree on at least one point.

“What would you say to those members of the community that would try to make the comparison between Ferguson, Missouri, and Ithaca, NY, this morning?” the host said.

Myrick responded: “Well you know you can’t fault them, it’s on the national consciousness, people are thinking about them and it’s got a lot of the same elements,” Myrick said, citing unarmed teens, police and race as three overlapping factors.

“I don’t think it’s completely out of the picture to say, ‘Wow this could have turned into Ferguson.’”

9 — Myrick isn’t going into why the family disagrees with the police account.

Saying he didn’t presume to speak for the family, Myrick wouldn’t explain to WHCU why — or how — the teens’ account of the incident differed from that of the cops.

After WHCU reviewed the police account of the officer pulling his gun on the teens approaching him, Myrick said: “That doesn’t jibe with the parents shared with me and the police chief … All I can say is the accounts differ and that the difference between the two accounts is important enough that we’re going to have to investigate this.”

10 — The parents are particularly upset about the fact that the cop was not in uniform.

Myrick said: “The parents did express very clearly how distraught their teens felt and how they claimed they did not know he was a police officer when he began following them and that’s why they fled and that they were highly motivated by fear.”

11 — Myrick had a plea for action for moving forward.

Myrick urged patience for investigators to do their work.

He also said, more generally, that the incident should spark a conversation about how to solve vexing underlying issues.

“All of us have to think about what we can do to improve community-police relations,” he said.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.