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A Conversation With a Hudson Valley Police Chief About Peaceful Protesting

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New Paltz Police Chief Robert Lucchesi on fostering conversation and the peaceful protest in town on Saturday.

On Saturday, May 30, peaceful protesters embarked on a march through New Paltz. Like a number of other protests in towns across the Hudson Valley, the group held signs that addressed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN earlier that week and called for racial justice across the nation. The walk drew a sizable crowd, with an estimated 600-750 in attendance.

One of those individuals on the scene was New Paltz Police Chief Robert Lucchesi. Already in contact with the protest organizers, he and his team were there to ensure the safety of those participating in the march.

“The roadways were open,” he explains. “We worked with the organizers of the demonstration in terms of the route they were taking to make sure that they could demonstrate unimpeded.”

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March against racist state violence. Justice for George Floyd. New Paltz, NY. May 30, 2020. . “The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.” – Scott Woods . . . #GeorgeFloyd #blacklivesmatter #M4BL #nojusticenopeace #policeaccountability #protest #march #riseup #newpaltz #newyork

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While the protest remained peaceful, with social distancing protocol largely, albeit not consistently, in effect, Lucchesi observes that it’s just a starting point for the conversation surrounding racial justice in the United States.

“These are definitely trying times,” he says. “Any trust or legitimacy that law enforcement had has been eroded. For us, it’s a matter of trying to figure out how we can more forward. I think that’s what law enforcement agencies are trying to do across the country.”

Imperative to this forward progress is the opening of conversation channels between law enforcement and the community at large. Individuals across the spectrum need the opportunity to express their opinions and make their voices heard in positive, change-making ways, which is something Lucchesi and his officers recognize.

“We need to create dialogue to establish trust and legitimacy,” he says. “Some of that began on Saturday to some extent when the organizers of the demonstration trusted us enough to contact us. We are trying to figure out how to move forward and that starts by listening to communities.”

To do so, he and his agency are discussing ways in which to best collaborate with locals. He could feel the anguish present during the protest, so he knows that it’s critical to continue that conversation and offer an outlet to those who need it.

“The anger and the pain that was present in that demonstration was palpable and powerful,” he observes. “For us, it’s a matter of trying to continue to reach out and encourage and invite community members to speak to us.”

While he works with his department to enact effective and positive change, he notes that the issue of racial injustice goes far beyond New Paltz and the greater Hudson Valley community.

“This is not just law enforcement,” he notes. “It’s a systemic issue. These conversations entail much more than just law enforcement and the public. It’s a much larger scale than that.”

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