Friday, March 25, 2011

NYPD was Insensitive at Parade - Organizer by Anna Gustafson - Queens Chronicle

Read original...

The Phagwah parade has drawn thousands of people to Richmond Hill to celebrate the Hindu holiday Holi for more than two decades, and organizers wanted the event to basically be the same as it always has been — crowds of people dancing, singing and, what is often the trademark of the event, throwing colorful powder.

But this year, some involved in Sunday’s parade said some of the police who were not from the 106th and 102nd precincts were culturally insensitive and aggressively took powder from individuals, including from women’s purses.

More than 25,000 people came to Richmond Hill last weekend to celebrate Holi, a religious holiday celebrated to mark the coming of spring. Celebrations are held across the world, most of which include participants throwing colorful powders at each other.

“The NYPD brought police from all over who had no idea about this parade, what it is, and they could be very insensitive to the nuances of the parade and the culture,” said Roy Singh, a parade organizer. “They went into ladies’ pocketbooks on the floats. They were very belligerent in seizing the powder. They even pushed people aside to get onto the floats.”

Singh emphasized they had no problems with officers from the local 106th and 102nd precincts, but with officers who did not know the area. He said of the approximate 100 officers there, there were about 28 from the 106th and 102nd precincts.

A police spokeswoman said they were both following a city law that was implemented after the anthrax scare in 2001 that does not allow individuals to use powder along parade routes and working to accommodate parade organizers, who she said had requested that police ensure parade goers did not throw powder along the route. Police did allow individuals to throw the colorful dye at the Smokey Oval Park in Richmond Hill.

One week after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, letters containing anthrax were mailed to two U.S. Senators and a number of news media offices, which killed five people.

The NYPD spokeswoman noted there were no summonses or arrests in relation to the confiscation of powder on Sunday.

Police from the 106th and 102nd precincts, which have been monitoring the parade for years, said they had a good time at the event.

“I thought the organizers did a great job, and I had a great time,” said Officer Ken Zorn of the 106th Precinct.

Vishnu Mahadeo, president of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council, agreed the police were too aggressive in confiscating the powder.

“When you take away the powder, it’s like having Christmas without a Christmas tree,” Mahadeo said. “The police took the key element out.”

Mahadeo said police took powder, confetti and perfume away from him, his wife and his 12-year-old child as they walked toward the parade route but were not on the route itself. He said hundreds of bags were confiscated. Police could not verify how much was taken.
“This is not an acceptable practice,” Mahadeo said. “This is a part of our culture and an intrusion into our culture and customs.”

Mahadeo said he and others are considering legal action against the police.

“This community is becoming very conscious, it’s no longer a first-generation immigrant community,” he said. “We’re second-, third-generation Americans, and it’s sad we’re being treated in this type of disrespectful manner.”

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) said he was looking into what happened at the parade.

“We’re disappointed because this is a celebration of their culture and traditions, and we’re still trying to talk to police about why it was confiscated and how we can move forward so that in the future they can have their celebration without being worried.”

Singh said organizers have aired their concerns to the NYPD, and he said police have asked them to draft a document about the holiday for them to disseminate to officers in the future.

“The 106th and 102nd police already understand us, but it’s the other police that we want to give this to,” Singh said of the document.