Peekskill GOP Chairman Vincent Vesce Sr. and Mayor Frank Catalina (Photo: Peekskill GOP)

Citing July’s violent assaults, in which three African-American males allegedly assaulted Hispanic males, a group known as The Peekskill Hate Free Zone issued a press release Monday afternoon calling on Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina to support “the creation of an equal employment initiative for the City of Peekskill, developed in collaboration between the city manager and community leaders, to ensure greater racial equity in city hiring and promotions, and a safe and dignified work environment for people of color” and to “publicly oppose any attack on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and to defend the right of all immigrants who have made Peekskill their home to remain here as valued members of our community, regardless of their migratory status.”

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The press release—endorsed by Committee for Justice, Community Voices Heard, Cortlandt-Peekskill Anti-Racist Collaborative (CPARC), Hudson Valley Community Coalition, Hudson Valley Democratic Socialists of America and Peekskill Area Pastors Association—is below:

We are a non-partisan coalition of citizens and organizations who are deeply concerned by the hateful language that has sprung up in the discourse surrounding the tragic incidents that occurred on Friday, July 14, on Orchard Street in Peekskill. Along with the family of the alleged attackers, we call for justice for the victims. Members of our coalition have raised money and will continue to assist the victim who was hospitalized and his family through this difficult time.

In our call for justice we look to our elected officials for leadership to set the tone for healing, fairness and compassion. As such, we were disappointed to read Mayor Frank Catalina’s inflammatory public statements and even more disheartened to read the hateful and racist comments posted in response that presume guilt and refer to some members of our community as “thugs,” “animals,” and “hoodlums.” Words have consequences. The inflammatory nature of this language demeans and dehumanizes the young people who are alleged to be perpetrators, and has implied that the whole Black community, the youth in particular, hold responsibility for the crime.

On Aug. 21, Mayor Catalina issued a public statement at the Common Council condemning the dehumanizing and racist comments made by some community members following his post. We strongly disagree with the mayor’s assessment that his public comments played no role in encouraging these responses. However, we commend him for acknowledging the often insidious racism that continues to dog our country and community, citing “issues like prison populations, economic [inequality], substandard housing, and [unequal] educational opportunities,” as evidence of the need for continued anti-racist struggle as well as committing himself to address racism and xenophobia within our community.

In the spirit of this commitment to fight the historic and ongoing effects of racism, we ask Mayor Catalina to support the creation of an equal employment initiative for the City of Peekskill, developed in collaboration between the city manager and community leaders, to ensure greater racial equity in city hiring and promotions, and a safe and dignified work environment for people of color. We also call on the mayor to publicly oppose any attack on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and to defend the right of all immigrants who have made Peekskill their home to remain here as valued members of our community, regardless of their migratory status. These are concrete steps he can immediately take to combat the racism which the mayor acknowledged continues to plague our society.

Addressing racism in Peekskill means not only putting an end to hate-filled language but also building a community where all members can feel safe, whether it be from violence, discrimination, or indifference. We call on the mayor and all of our public officials to join us in making Peekskill a hate-free zone.

To read Catalina’s response, click here.

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