TIVOLI — The Village of Tivoli is a small, suburban village community of 1,118 residents, with a mostly white population. Yet many of the village’s growing minority population have stated that law enforcement operates under the same systemic racism that has been highlighted in larger, more diverse cities across the U.S.
These residents voiced their concerns during a forum that was held in June over Zoom to address police reform, and were backed up by their white counterparts.
The forum was moderated by Freddimir Garcia and Bailey Williams of the Dutchess County Human Rights Commission, and corresponded with both Governor Andrew Cuomo’s and County Executive Marc Molinaro’s orders for a collaborative approach between local governments, local police and the residents of each municipality in New York state in developing a law enforcement reform plan.
Although the forum participants only represented two percent of the village’s population, their voices were loud enough for Village Mayor Joel Griffith to hear. A follow-up forum was held via Zoom as well in response, which was also moderated by Garcia and Williams.
The forum allowed for the village board to create proposed solutions that were met with participants’ feedback.
The first proposal addressed concerns of racial profiling by suggesting that an incident form should be available for residents to express concerns about police treatment. As the Village of Tivoli does not have an official village police department and contracts with the County Sheriff’s Deputies, the forms would be fielded by the board and then directed to the police.
“Police should conduct themselves professionally and without bias,” added Deputy Mayor Emily Majer. “Further, if someone in our community has an encounter with law enforcement and feels the police did not conduct themselves to these standards, we need to know.”
Griffith acknowledged the pain residents of color have felt in the area. “It was heartbreaking that we heard these experiences,” he said. “I want to know the next day if someone in this village had a horrible experience with police.”
In June, Bard College student Nico Mbaye shared their account of witnessing an African American friend get arrested outside of a local hotspot last Halloween. The friend was the only black student in a group of white students. They detailed the incident further during a phone interview. “It was a pretty brutal the way the police went about it,” said Mbaye. “The police were escalating the violence.”
Sacha Medjo-Akono also described witnessing the arrest of their friend. The senior at Bard was also targeted by the police officer while trying to film the encounter as well. “I was asked by police to turn around, and I was about 10 feet from what was happening,” Medjo-Akono said in the June forum.
Recent Bard College graduate Madeline Buzbee spoke to how police targeting people of color outside of village hotspots is a common occurrence at the June forum.
“Racism and police brutality is happening in Tivoli, and I’ve seen it,” said Buzbee. “I’ve witnessed from my bedroom window police cars sitting outside of Hotel Tivoli stopping students, mainly students of color.”
Mbaye and Medjo-Akono also attested to this during subsequent phone interviews.
“Just the fact that the police on quiet nights will patrol the streets, as a black person in the community, that is, in my mind, an act of violence in a community that is quiet sleepy,” said Mbaye. “I’ve been closely followed by a police car just going to my friend’s house,” said Medjo-Akono. “I’ve had them stand in front of my door when I was having a dinner party.”
Fellow student Nic Villarosa, who also attended the June forum, points to the fact that an increase in the black and African American population in the village poses a threat to local police. He reported that the village has nine black residents. “I think this is probably the most black people that have ever lived in Tivoli,” he said. “It’s definitely racially motivated.”
Most of the attendees during the first forum were former and current Bard College students residing in the Village of Tivoli. Their main concern revolved around enforcement of the village’s noise ordinance law, which was adopted in 1998 and amended three times, the most recent in 2015.
It was noted by trustee Jeanne Schneider during the follow-up forum that similar laws are in effect across 28 of the 30 municipalities in Dutchess County.
To this end, Deputy Mayor Majer proposed the creation of the Tivoli Community Coalition, which will allow residents to share with one another their experiences living in the area and allow the village board to explain how the government operates.
“We heard loud and clear that some residents of our village feel disconnected from the community, and there is a need for an active effort to promote inclusivity,” she said.
Should it come to fruition, the coalition is expected to contain eight to 10 individuals reflecting the village’s diversity and will provide welcome packets for new residents and general information on the area and the village board to all residents.
Resident Danielle Riou, who attended the June forum, suggested a community hotline might be better for residents to voice their frustrations with their neighbors.
“I would like to volunteer to help organize something like a community response,” she said, “so that if village residents feel the need to call [and complain about noisy neighbors] to not call the police, but to rather call this community group.”
Trustee Angela Cole explained that implementing this hotline might be challenging, as the village is too small to have not only a police department but also a group of trained mental health professionals to manage the hotline.
“That being said, in our discussions, all of the board felt strongly that part of the Tivoli community mission is bringing all the stakeholders in the village together,” she said.
“There’s nothing to stop neighbors from being neighbors with each other,” added Mayor Griffith.