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Fatal 1964 Incident Sparked Days of Riots in Harlem, Brooklyn

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TWC News: Fatal 1964 Incident Sparked Days of Riots in Harlem, Brooklyn
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The death of Eric Garner is obviously not the first community outrage over the death of an African-American at the hands of a white police officers. Fifty years and a day before the death of Eric Garner, a fatal incident occurred that sparked days of riots in Harlem and in Brooklyn. NY1's Michael Herzenberg discussed the incident with Rep. Charles Rangel and Richard Aborn, the president of the Citizens Crime Commission, and filed the following report.

Almost a week of rioting left more than 100 people in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant injured. Police arrested at least 400. One person died.

The year was 1964, and the riots were sparked by New York City Police Department Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan shooting and killing black teen James Powell on July 16.

Rep. Charles Rangel was active in politics but not yet elected to public office.

"I think we were dealing more with hoodlums than we were with civil rights activists," he said.

Rangel believes the rioting was rooted in anger over poverty, set off by a lack of respect from police for people of color.

"The thing that has not changed since 1964 is that people in uniform have been unable to stand up for the people that they are supposed to be policing for," Rangel said.

"Congressman Rangel is right. We need to make sure that the relationship between police officers and citizens is a healthy, mutually respectful one," said Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission.

Aborn said the NYPD has undergone significant change in a half century, a department that now reflects the city's demographics a more robust citizen-oriented Civilian Complaint Review Board.

"There's much more vigorous oversight of use of force and of shootings. We're seeing shootings of civilians come way down," he said. "But that's not to say that there aren't problems."

He wants an honest, large conversation about race and policing, saying that the abuse of stop-and-frisk in the recent past created community anger that has now transferred to distaste over quality-of-life policing, often called broken window policing.

"Things like the defacement of buildings, graffiti," Aborn said.

Those things get plenty of 311 complaints but he says the public is now complaining about enforcement methods.

"Every single low-level offense doesn't have to go to a criminal court," he said.

He'd like to see a community panel handle select offenses to prevent some African-American youth from getting saddled with a criminal record.

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