New York City's top cop told predominantly black audience in Queens that police played a part in some of the darkest moments in black history.
"The best parts of American history would have been impossible without the police. Many of the worst parts of black history would have been impossible without police," Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday.
"Slavery, our country's original sin, sat on a foundation codified by laws enforced by police — by slave-catchers," Bratton told the crowd at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York for a Black History Month event.
Bratton recalled the beginnings of an unbalanced relationship between police and black Americans when Dutch settler Peter Stuyvesant used slave labor to help build New Amsterdam after he created a police force.
"Since then, the stories of police and black citizens have been intertwined again and again," Bratton told the audience in the basement of the Jamaica church.
Bratton denied that the NYPD had any institutionalized policies against communities of color, but admitted that its relationship with communities hardest hit by crime need to improve.
Bratton, whose support of the Broken Windows theory of policing whereby addressing smaller crimes prevents bigger ones came under after the death of Staten Island man Eric Garner during an arrest, scolded threats against cops.
“When protesters chant, ‘What do we want? Dead cops,’ we have gone too far as a society,” Bratton said, but also said police and the communities they serve have a shared interest.
"Public safety means public safety for everyone, but we must do it in a way that bridges the divide," Bratton continued. "We all need to work together — all of us."
Priscilla Gonzalez of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition recognized Bratton’s frankness on the history of police relations with minority communities but blasted current policing procedures she called discriminatory.
“Unless [Bratton] takes action to end the abusive 'Broken Windows' and other unequal policing that only targets certain communities with aggression and enforcement, and holds officers accountable when they brutalize and unjustly kill in communities of color, he too will be judged poorly by history,” Gonzalez said in a statement.