NEW ROCHELLE, NY — More than a month ago, New Rochelle’s Black Clergy, along with local elected officials and community leaders, was duped into standing beside Mayor Noam Bramson and Police Commissioner Joseph Schaller at a press conference on June 6th unaware that the Mayor and the City’s Top Cop were about to put forward a false narrative predicated on lies and deception to justify an officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of a 24-year old Black resident.
“Useful Idiots” is a phrase often attributed to Vladimir Lenin but is actually based on an English translation from the Serbo-Croat language for an article on Yugoslavia which appeared in a 1946 Readers Digest article by Bogdan Raditsa. The phrase “Koristne Budale” was translated as “Useful Innocents” but is more correctly translated as “Useful Fools”; the phrase “Useful Idiots” is used today to describe people perceived as propagandizing for a cause without fully comprehending the cause’s goals, and who are cynically used by the cause’s leaders.
In the hours after New Rochelle Police Officer Alec McKenna shot and killed Kamal Flowers on the night of June 5th, Mayor Noam Bramson began working the phones, reaching out to leaders among the City’s Black Clergy.
By the following morning, a clearly shaken Bramson had assembled City Council Members, County Legislators, Black Clergy and assorted leaders in the Black and Latino community for an invitation-only, closed-door strategy session to agree on how the City should respond to the shooting of a black man by a white police officer in New Rochelle just 11 days after Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd on May 25th. According to people who attended, there was a palpable fear in the room that the violence which had spread across the country in the wake of Floyd’s death would be visited upon New Rochelle.
Outside the meeting, Schaller button-holed Westchester County District Attorney Anthony Scarpino to tell his side of the story and answer questions. Scarpino asked to be hidden away somewhere, concerned the Black Clergy members would be “all over me” if they knew he was there. Schaller escorted Scarpino, who is now overseeing the investigation into Flowers’ death, into the City Council conference room.
Bramson desperately wanted the Black Clergy members to join him on stage as he addressed the media in a press conference scheduled an hour later.
The Black Clergy balked.
They were eventually convinced to stand on the stage after hearing a story told by Bramson and Police Commissioner Joseph Schaller.
The story was entirely fabricated.
Bramson and Schaller claimed that the shooting was the result of good police work by two officers who happened upon a vehicle that police all over the City had been hunting for two days. The pair claimed that police departments in the area had received information in the aftermath of Floyd’s alleged murder that out-of-state agitators were planning a campaign of violence and looting in Westchester and had been warned to be on the look out for cars with New Jersey license plates, temporary tags and tinted windows. They further claimed the police department had received a call from a citizen on Wednesday evening saying just such a vehicle – a suspicious Black Dodge Charger with Tennessee license plates and tinted windows — had been driving around the Heritage Homes apartment complex but had eluded police. On Friday night, Bramson and Schaller claimed, McKenna and another officer came across what they believed might be the mysterious car from Wednesday night and, after observing the vehicle commit unspecified traffic violations, pulled the car over.
Kamal Flowers exited the vehicle and fled the scene on foot. Flowers was chased by McKenna, and according to Bramson and Schaller, tased twice then shot by McKenna during a tussle after Flowers put a gun in McKenna’s face and pulled the trigger.
Flowers died as a result of two bullet wounds including one bullet in his heart.
Based on reporting by Talk of the Sound since June 6th, everyone in that room that day now knows the narrative was a Bramson & Schaller Fairy Tale intended to calm racial tensions by justifying what appears to be the racial profiling of two black men by police for the “crime” of driving in a vehicle police had identified within 15 minutes of a citizen complaint two days prior.
There was no mystery car, no outside agitators, not even tinted windows; just an Enterprise rental car leased by Isa Muhammad, a longtime resident who grew up in New Rochelle, attended New Rochelle public schools and worked for 7 years in the Sanitation Department of neighboring Larchmont, NY.
Having swallowed Bramson and Schaller’s tall tale, the Black Clergy members discussed how to respond to the Mayor’s pleas that each of them join him on stage and take a turn at the podium to address the media at the press conference.
None of the clergy members were willing to take up the Mayor’s request but believing one of them needed to say something, Rev. Dr. David Holder of New York Covenant Church was selected to represent the Black Clergy to the media.
As the press conference began, Mayor Bramson was flanked by Holder, New Rochelle City Council Member Liz Fried, New Rochelle City Council Member Sara Kaye. New Rochelle City Council Member Yadira Ramos-Herbert, New Rochelle City Council Member Ivar Hyden, New Rochelle Police Commissioner Joseph Schaller, New Rochelle Police Deputy Commissioner Robert Gazzola, New Rochelle City Council Member Al Tarantino, New Rochelle City Council Member Martha Lopez, Ximena Francella of La Fuerza Latina, Bishop Fetson Leak of Gateway Deliverance Church, Rev. Dr. Ray Mott of the Family Christian Center, Bishop Derek Pierson of the Holy Light House Church, Minister Mark McLean of the Family Christian Center, Bishop Martin Nelson of Beezer Holiness Church, Associate Pastor Dierdre Clark of New York Covenant Church, Daniel E. Bonnet of WestCOP, Westchester County Legislator Damon Maher, Rev. Dr. Allen Weaver Jr. of Bethesda Baptist Church, Westchester County Legislator Catherine Parker and one other unidentified man on the far left (stage right).
Minutes later the press conference began with Bramson promising to be truthful, constructive, respectful and honest. He was none of those things.
Bramson said while “not everyone here endorses every word I will say” those with him were “united in understanding the gravity of the situation”.
“We come to you in the spirit of openness and transparency and honesty,” said Bramson as he prepared to present a fabricated account of the incident.
Bramson forgot he was supposed to introduce Pastor Holder before going into details of the incident. Bramson was interrupted by Minister Mark McLean who reminded Bramson to introduce Holder:
“We’re here as clergy in the community, as Black Clergy, as the Latino community which we love and support as they always support us as well as community persons and neighbors who are here and people active in the community as part of the community to say that we’re in dialog today, we’re in communication with the City, they called us because they wanted to talk to us and we appreciate that, that in no way it means we agree with everything that will be said, as the Mayor said, so aptly said, and so we’re… we’re… it’s an important time for us to be here, to stand for justice because that’s what we’re here for and I would say to the clergy, let the Church, Amen, we are here to make sure there is justice and compassion. Jesus was a man, our savior, who was a man of justice, our Savior just as God in the flesh, so we’re excited to be here but not excited because this happening but excited because we have an opportunity to turn wrong and make it right, that’s why we’re here so thank you Mayor.”
Whatever the intention of the Black Clergy, the statement by Holder was not the sort of emphatic statement of separation the clergy members apparently wished it to be.
Holder did not explain what he meant when he said, “in no way it means we agree with everything that will be said.” He may of had an inkling of what the Mayor was about to say but he had no way of knowing that little of it would be true — that the New Rochelle Police Department had the license plate of the Dodge Charger on Wednesday, and all that entails.
Holder did not specify what “wrong” was being made “right”.
Regardless, none of what Holder said addressed that the entire narrative, leading up to Kamal Flowers exiting the vehicle, was lie upon lie — not something one can agree or disagree with only reject as untrue.
Holder did reveal that the City called the Black Clergy to come to City Hall to talk. They were all were on the stage because they were asked to be on the stage by Noam Bramson.
Unsaid was that the Mayor wanted the optics of the Black Clergy united with him and at least the appearance of support for what he was about to say. He wanted a “photo op”, not the truth.
Bramson, having gotten them up on the stage under a ruse, proceeded to use an elaborate narrative the City knew to be false to justify the traffic stop and thus all that followed.
While the Black Clergy may have had their reasons for being up on stage, and Pastor Holder gave a reason — to make sure there would be “justice and compassion” and “an opportunity to turn wrong and make it right” — none of it spoke to their being shamelessly used by Bramson. The Mayor and Police Commissioner got what they wanted: the appearance of an endorsement of the actions of police the night before regardless of whatever qualifier Holder or any other clergy member may have thought they placed on it. Bramson and Schaller used New Rochelle’s unwitting Black Clergy to serve their own ends.
A month later, as the false narrative crumbled under pressure from diligent reporting by this reporter, Bramson told Talk of the Sound, “every statement I have made with regard to this incident has truthfully and accurately reflected the information provided to me at the time”.
In other words, if he spoke untruths it is only because he was parroting lies fed to him by NRPD; he should not be held responsible for ascertaining the veracity of statements he makes.
Unasked is the question, why was Bramson addressing the media at all during what should have been strictly a police press conference on a criminal matter?
New Rochelle is run by a City Manager. The Police Department is run by a Police Commissioner.
As Bramson described the sequence of events from the night before, Schaller and Deputy Commissioner Robert Gazzola stood by, silent, shifting uncomfortably. City Manager Charles B. Strome sat in the audience with his back to reporters and never said a word during the press conference, apparently content to let Bramson “own” the moment.
To put the logistics of the June 6th press conference in context, one needs to go back three years to the day — June 6th, 2017 — when Neil White murdered his 7-year old daughter. Bramson insisted on speaking at the police press conference prior to Neil White’s arraignment.
At what was supposed to be a police briefing for the press on a horrific criminal case, Bramson pushed aside senior police commanders to put the limelight on himself by delivering an over-emotionalized, out-of-place speech that served no purpose other than for him and was not reported on by a single media outlet present that day.
Six months later, Valaree Schwab was murdered. The New Rochelle Police Department scheduled a press conference for late morning on January 11th. Bramson again wanted to speak at the press conference at police headquarters. After the previous debacle, Bramson was told “no” he could not participate in the police press conference; if he wanted to give a speech he would have to organize his own event at City Hall. He did. He created a joint press conference with two clearly uncomfortable school district officials. Bramson gave a similarly overwrought yet soporific speech that was again not reported by the assembled media.
In the Kamal Flowers case, there has never been a police press conference.
Instead, the City Manager and Police Brass stood back as Bramson gave not one but two speeches, sandwiched around an inaccurate account of the events prior to Flowers’ death, coupled with several minutes of Bramson parrying a handful of questions from this reporter and a member of the public as a largely somnolent press corps stood in the back of the room.
Whether the Mayor deliberately lied or uncritically repeated lies told to him by Schaller, the fact remains that the public was grossly misinformed on June 6th and no effort has been made by NRPD or City officials to issue a corrective statement.
We have since reached out to contact every person on the stage with the Mayor and police command on June 6th and asked each of them four questions:
- In hindsight, do you regret standing with the Police Commissioner and Mayor given the false statements and deceptive narrative promulgated at the press conference?
- Do you think a full and complete corrective statement should be issued by the City of New Rochelle?
- Do you retain confidence in Joseph Schaller to lead the men and women of the New Rochelle Police Department during this difficult time?
- Do you believe the false statements and deceptive narrative on June 6th bears on whether the Governor should appoint the Attorney General to investigate the shooting and even the entire matter including the false and misleading statements in the aftermath?
Not a single person on the stage replied to answer our questions; this despite having literally stood with the New Rochelle Police Department on June 6th as Police Commissioner Joseph Schaller and Mayor Noam Bramson made numerous false and deceptive statements to paint a false narrative:
FALSE: Isa Muhammad was pulled over on the night of June 5th because NRPD had been warned that out-of-state agitators (with Jersey plates and tinted windows) might come into New Rochelle.
FALSE: That the presence of out-of-state agitators was tied to the Next Step Forward Initiative Rally on June 3rd.
FALSE: That a “suspicious vehicle” had been driving “in and out” of Heritage Homes shortly before 6 pm that evening.
FALSE: That the Black Dodge Charger had not been located that night.
FALSE: That the vehicle had been “flagged” by the New Rochelle Police Department.
FALSE: That on June 5th Alec McKenna and his partner happened upon what they thought might be the “suspicious vehicle” NRPD had been looking for the past two days.
FALSE: That on June 5th Alec McKenna and his partner followed the vehicle then pulled it over because of two “failure to signal” violations.
The result of this highly questionable traffic stop was an officer-involved shooting of Kamal Flowers resulting in Flowers’ death.
As two recent articles (linked below) have documented — with the police department’s own records — the narrative presented by Mayor Bramson and Police Commissioner Schaller was absolutely false. No corrective statement has ever been issued and none demanded by the Useful Idiots who stood with the Mayor that day.
Many of the same clergy on that stage, apparently unaware of the saying “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” have since accepted appointments to the City of New Rochelle’ newly-minted “Clergy Rapid Response Team”: Rev. Dr. Ray Mott. Minister Mark McLean, Bishop Fetson Leak, Bishop Derek Pierson. Rev. Dr. Allen Weaver Jr., Rev. Dr. David Holder and Bishop Martin Nelson.