NEWBURGH – Mayor Torrance Harvey stood with fellow Newburgh city officials and community leaders on Monday to present a new plan designed to empower the city’s youth. The announcement follows sharp criticism the mayor took for his brief appearance in a rap video filmed on city streets months ago.
In the video, one youth gave “the finger” to the camera and another shouted out loud, “suck my d**k.” Harvey said the video was expressing the freedom of speech.
“This is art. This is an artistic expression. The guns that were in that movie video were digitally imported and if you look at that video, the kids are using their fingers emulating whatever. It is art. It is music. It is art, and we support our young people,” the mayor said.
Harvey announced a new coalition of filmmakers, casting agents, talent managers, the NAACP, and others that he is teaming up with to give new opportunities for the city’s youth to get involved in the film and TV industry.
In response to the criticism of his appearance in the video, Harvey said that the city youth were expressing themselves artistically and were protected by the First Amendment. “We will no longer stand by and allow folks to paint an ugly picture or stereotype our young men and women as gang members and violent predators for using their freedom of speech in an artistic way through music,” declared Harvey while announcing the new partnership.
Individuals seeking information on the opportunity to be added to a “casting database” to be used by filmmakers, are being asked to call Mayor Harvey’s office.
One of the members of the new coalition is Below The Line Bootcamp (BTL) which has an office in Newburgh. BTL is a not-for-profit training program dedicated to the training of at-risk youth in the basic fundamentals of film production and giving them immediate opportunities for employment as production assistants. BTL Bootcamp also provides continuing mentorship to all graduates as they consider and navigate a career in the film/television world. The program is free to students and relies heavily on the enormous generosity of sponsors.
The rap video that triggered this new initiative has since been removed from the internet. It showed Newburgh teens using gestures such as the middle finger, waving guns, and singing a profanity-laced song. Harvey’s brief appearance at the scene became part of the video that was denounced by a City of Newburgh detective, Orange County DA David Hoovler and the president of the Orange County Police Chiefs Association.
Many in attendance at Monday’s news conference called for the police to apologize for criticizing the mayor. Harvey instead, offered an “olive branch to the detective” in an effort to improve the relations between the police and the community.
Harvey, an educator in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, called the actions of the youth in the video “artistic expression” but noted that the same behavior and language would not be condoned in his classroom. He also said that the First Amendment rights of the kids were being stifled by media reports of the incident that were not fair and accurate given the circumstances of what actually took place that day (of the filming of the video).