Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina has responded to Peekskill Hate Free Zone’s Monday afternoon press release. It is as follows:

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On July 14, I held a press conference in front of the courthouse to decry the actions of a city court judge, who, despite knowing that the three suspects arrested on felony assault and gang assault charges were also the prime suspects in a second assault and gang assault and that a victim was in the hospital thanks to a baseball bat being used on his skull, released two of those suspects without any bail and the third suspect—who had a criminal contempt charge pending in the Peekskill City Court—on bail of $500.

At the press conference, I recounted the crime and the status of the victim, who remains in very critical condition as I write this response. I did refer to the defendants as thugs and hoodlums, but never referred to them as “animals.”

I am unaware of any widespread hateful or racist comments directed at the defendants, but the press conference did spark public debate about the actions of this judge who, in my  opinion, placed citizens of Peekskill in further jeopardy by failing to keep dangerous individuals off the streets. Ironically, this hate-crime was never condemned by any of the groups calling for a “hate free zone.”

The press conference always was, and continues to be, about the lack of judgment and level of competence of a sitting Judge and the judgment of those Council members who placed her on the bench after being warned in advance that this very situation would occur.

I fully understand the need for groups dedicated to racial justice to monitor statements from public officials. I met with representatives of this group, listened to their concerns and readily admitted that in my criticisms of this judge and adverse conclusions about the accused may be unfairly drawn. I was asked to consider making a statement condemning not just racially-divisive speech, but all hateful speech, especially online and in light of Charlottesville, which unfortunately occurred after that press conference.

On Aug. 21, at a televised Common Council meeting, I made a statement that clearly apologized for including the accused in my press conference that was clearly, primarily directed at a city court Judge, clarified that I never referred to the accused as “animals” and strongly condemned white nationalism, Nazism and the actions that occurred in Charlottesville. In fact, I am unaware of any such speech ever before being made by a siting mayor in the Council chamber, on TV and being a part of the official record (minutes) of city meetings. I have researched meetings that took place during the turbulent 1960s, so I can attest to the uniqueness and strength of my Aug. 21 statement.

I was honored that the Rev. Stephany Graham stood by my side and personally approved of that speech, by congratulating me and thanking me afterward for making it. I was further thanked by various members of the Peekskill NAACP, Community Voices Heard, PAPA and the Committee for Justice.  
 
Their current statement, while rehashing these two month-old events, is a call for the creation of an equal employment initiative, which in principle, I am not opposed to.  I would be willing to sit and talk it out, get more information and have our legal and HR people look at it to see how it could be legally implemented.  

Their second call to publicly oppose any attack on DACA is similarly one I can support. Nobody is in favor of deporting innocent children, brought to this country as infants and who have been raised here and only know this country as their home. Further, there are thousands of immigrants, who, regardless of how they arrived here, have lived, worked, paid taxes, raised their children, obeyed our laws, invested here and otherwise lived their lives as any other American would have. They deserve a humane and reasonable path to full citizenship.

In short, I fully believe in and support the (Ronald) Reagan Doctrine on immigration policy and I would urge the appropriate public officials, the president and congress, to get past this issue.

I firmly believe that such immigration reform and laws—such as racial equality legislation and the right to marry (anyone)—will eventually become the norm in this country. Unfortunately, I personally believe that, like those hard fought-for civil rights, many more battles must be had in both legislatures throughout this country as well as our courts.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not express my personal disappointment in the statement’s rehash of false information (false “animal” reference) and the old attack on a press conference held over two months ago that I thought we had successfully addressed, simply to push for the above two items (equal employment initiative and DACA support) when simply contacting me would have brought about this reply. 

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