A few weeks ago, Chairman Steve Brescia stood at a Back the Blue event organized by the Trump Republican Party, and misled the crowd about a recent vote in the Orange County legislature. His lies have been a recurring theme throughout the campaign trail; however, this point was particularly misleading. I want to make it very clear that while I strongly believe that law enforcement have a tough job, people of color, like myself, have faced challenges at their hands that have not only spanned generations, but which continue to this day. Black Lives Matter and similar movements are not against police, but against a racist and bigoted system that has disproportionately prosecuted people of color. We are against systemic racism in all its forms and are calling for change. If being anti-racist is radical as the Republicans continue to say, if standing with communities of color that are calling for much needed change is extremist, I will proudly carry that badge. However, Republicans will have to explain to communities like Newburgh why they are perpetuating racism and bigotry while also adding to our crime and violence.
As a sitting legislator, I have been told to go back to my country more times than I can count, even though I was born here in the Hudson Valley. This is how racism works: it doesn’t care about your title or your education, it tries to dehumanize you. They don’t care if you graduated top of your class, or that you speak multiple languages or that you are the youngest legislator. They just see your skin tone. That’s the racism that exists in our own backyard; not in some faraway place, but right here. This constant battle has only been reinforced by this Trumpist party that has consistently disgraced our nation. Republican leaders and those who sit on the side lines must stop ignoring the lack of equality and justice and denying the very existence of systemic racism and white privilege or they need to step aside.
The resolution naming “unwavering support” for all law enforcement agencies that Brescia continues to speak about on the campaign trail was not only tone deaf, but also an insensitive and a poorly timed Republican response to months of protests in the aftermath of the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Racism is clear and apparent in all structures, and I refuse to support any resolution which uses language that suggests we do not have room for necessary change and improvement within these structures. The Republicans very clearly took the side of law enforcement over people of color. But as the legislator representing the most diverse community in Orange County, I would be disgracing myself and my community to stay silent on such an important issue. Brescia and his minions disregarded for months the calls for change put forward by the Democratic caucus, and they have yet to accept a resolution in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the protestors risking their lives across the country. Both of these moves are insulting to communities of color who demanded a response from a government that has been silent on systemic racism and police brutality.
I also want to clarify that I am not in opposition to law enforcement that truly protect and serve. Not only have I worked with law enforcement on crisis intervention training and de-escalation here in the Hudson Valley, but as the former parole reentry coordinator for Orange County with RECAP, I worked closely with NY state parole officers, local law enforcement and probation officers. In my first year as a legislator, I worked with the County Executive to obtain $5000 for the Youth in Police initiative in the city of Newburgh.
While I have become less optimistic about focusing on community policing and training alone, I do recognize the value both have. Nevertheless, it is not enough if the system itself is broken and if there is no buy-in from the top. I want officers to have more tools in their tool belt, which is why I totally support investing more funds into mental health and substance abuse. What I do oppose is any racist police officers who use their power and influence to hurt people. If you identify as a racist or someone who believes that racism is someone else’s problem, you are part of the problem.
Our county government has for decades treated Newburgh as a place to send everyone they don’t want to really help in their own towns. This is amongst the many reasons why Newburgh has a higher abundance of homeless individuals, house more sex offenders than any community and the highest number of people who struggle with drug addiction. It is because communities like Montgomery, Cornwall, Monroe, Tuxedo, Port Jervis and so on have actively rejected a need for services and the creation of affordable housing. They seem to have this false narrative that poverty only exists in cities, yet if you were to come to Newburgh, you would see that Newburgh has not only done a great job at supporting our community but also theirs. These Republicans who talk about public safety have done a great job of passing their responsibilities to the cities and then play deaf and mute when called out on it. They are the real culprits for crime and lawlessness you see and should be ashamed at how they pretend to be about law and order. They are just about passing the problem and incarcerating more people of color or tearing down anyone that doesn’t agree with their blatantly racist worldview.
It is because Newburgh is the empathetic city that proudly embraces diversity and inclusion that we have long made sure to pick up the slack where this county has failed. People of need are forced to come to Newburgh, far from their families and their support systems, because all the wrap-around services are kept in the cities. The county directly and indirectly maintains the existence of poorly conditioned SROs that are below human conditions. Middletown and Newburgh are pinned against one another, when the real problem is the decades-long republican leadership that has blatantly created a system that inherently hurts the communities it is in charged to help. That does not mean that Newburgh does not struggle with its own challenges. It is true that our community has struggled with violence -but violence stems from desperation, it stems from poverty and a lack of upward mobility. If Brescia really cared about the people of Newburgh, he would help address our unemployment rate, which is the worst in the region. Steve Brescia’s friends at the Partnership and the IDA could be helping bring much needed industries and jobs; but instead, he has used his monopoly on power to divert all industries to Montgomery and other Republican- controlled towns. Brescia talks about helping people, but to date Newburgh maintains the highest rates of child poverty and he has never talked about changing that. The most environmental challenges exist in Newburgh and instead of addressing it he used his power to ram through a resolution in support of Danskammer, a power plant that will only further poison our communities, even though a rising number of communities have come out against the project. This type of leadership is why places like Newburgh are hurting. Newburgh thrives today in spite of the contempt shown by people like Brescia.
Brescia and people like him use outdated data to portray Newburgh as the most dangerous place in New York -a statement he reiterates at his events, which is also untrue. These outdated leaders only see the crime, but do not acknowledge how they have contributed to it. Newburgh cannot afford this kind of ignorant leadership in the state senate. We need leaders that understand that systemic racism is a real challenge, that climate change is a real problem and a leader who actively works to help our most vulnerable communities. Steve Brescia would be the worst thing that could ever happen to Newburgh and NY State.
He is not approachable as a chairman or in any of his many influential roles, instead shutting people down before they can even speak and would only use his power and influence to further deteriorate our state and deny people of color a say and is unfit for the role. We need to continue the work that Senator Skoufis has started and continue to make the changes big and small to help address the challenges of our collective future. While we all might be energized about the presidential elections, we must also keep an eye on local politics and work together to defeat bigoted politicians who have poisoned our county for far too long. Leaders like Senator Skoufis and Senator Metzer are fighting for Orange County residents and we have to stand with them. Vote for all our Democratic Party or Working Families Party candidates!
Kevindaryán Luján, Orange County Legislator, Newburgh – District 4