Dutchess County residents recount their experiences of racism in virtual town hall
Some Dutchess County residents shared their personal stories about racism and cultural bias in their communities in a virtual town hall Tuesday.
"I have experienced far more situations of racism and sexism in Dutchess County than I've ever experienced growing up in the south," said Cammie Jones.
Former United States Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, who grew up in Dutchess, also recounted one experience.
"I was in sixth grade. One day I was walking out the front door of the school. I was getting on the bus with all the other kids and a kid looked me right in the face and called me the 'N' word," Johnson recalled.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney hosted the discussion.
"What you share this evening is not the end, but merely the beginning of what will be many more conversations," Molinaro said.
"And so I come to this conversation not just as a politician or congressman or a policy maker, but also someone who put his two daughters in a car yesterday to go visit family. They're 17 and 19. My daughters are African American and Native. They're people of color in a vehicle and I worried about that," Maloney said.
However, Westchester County attorney William O. Wagstaff III spoke out after he said Maloney was silent and Molinaro didn't do the right thing when his clients, Julissa Dawkins of Poughkeepsie and her sister appeared to be seen in a video tossed to the ground by police in March of 2019 while the officers tried to break up a fight between school-aged children.
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"When he learned that these girls were brutalized by the city of Poughkeepsie police, he had his office aggressively prosecute this case and this is despite having public outcry," Wagstaff said.
"I think that they have political pressure to give the appearance of concern," Wagstaff continued. "If you truly care, dismiss the charges and make sure that the right thing is done for this family and that justice is served."
Wagstaff said Dawkins' trial is set to start in the coming months.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney released the following statement: “Last night, I joined former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and others in a community conversation on race hosted by Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro. The point of the virtual gathering was to provide an unscripted forum for community members to share experiences and voice grievances on issues of racial justice in Dutchess County. That’s exactly what happened.
“Of particular concern to many participants were the circumstances surrounding the March 2019 arrest of Jamelia Barnett and Julissa Dawkins by police officers in the City of Poughkeepsie. Melissa Johnson, their mother, spoke powerfully about her frustrations with the County and how disappointed she was that I had not been involved. She noted that I too have African American daughters and would not want them treated this way.
“After reviewing the situation, it is clear to me that she is right. This is a case that I have not followed closely enough, nor have I used my position to advocate on behalf of her family. For that, I owe Melissa and her daughters an apology.
“At a minimum, Dutchess County should immediately drop the charges against Jamelia Barnett and Julissa Dawkins and demand accountability for what this family has experienced. While I have no formal authority in this area, I do have a voice. So, I am communicating directly with the County Executive and Mayor to achieve this goal.
“I hope acknowledging my own shortcomings on this particular case can be part of a larger soul searching by all of us in positions of authority on ways we have fallen short in advocating for our vulnerable neighbors. My office remains committed to issues of racial justice. Going forward, we will work even harder at being a better ally to those who most need our help.”
News 12 reached out to Molinaro for comment on the Dawkins case but has not yet heard back.
Read the full statement below from attorney William O. Wagstaff III.