When Loving One’s Neighbor Means Holding Police Accountable
February 9, 2022
When Fred Davie was six, he was on a children’s television program and was asked by the host what he wanted to be when he grew up. He responded: “I want to be a preacher!” And that’s just what he did.
Davie recalls one day after vacation Bible school when he was just 9 years old. He and his friends decided to integrate the local amusement park, and walked directly from church to the park and walked in. “The Park actually shut down that day and remained shut for a year after that, but when it opened back up – it was integrated.”
Over five decades later, the Rev. Fred Davie’s storied career hit another milestone on January 31, 2022, when he stepped down from the Civilian’s Complaint Review Board (CCRB) where he had chaired the crucial agency of over 200 employees empowered to adjudicate complaints against and recommend discipline for members of the New York City Police Department, the nation’s largest police force.
For Davie, the CCRB was a logical extension of his call to ministry from his youth when he attended a Black Presbyterian church in Belmont, North Carolina. Growing up, Davie witnessed the role that Black ministers and churches played in his community: “My church was very involved with the challenges the small Black community faced in the mostly white town. From the beginning I knew that there was no way to be a person of faith without being involved in social change and community service.”
When he went off to Greensboro College, his professor in Old Testament confirmed what Davie already knew: he was meant to go to Seminary, and he eventually graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1982 and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA to do ministry in a faith-based non-profit, the New York City Mission Society, the city’s oldest existing social service agency.
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Davie’s ministry has been to serve in non-profits and government, while also performing clergy duties as required. He was the director of Public Private Ventures, where developed and launched a national initiative that helped reduced recidivism rates across the country. Over the decades, he worked with both Democrat and Republican administrations on a variety of social issues.
His work attracted the attention of then-Senator Barack Obama whose campaign was just taking off. The Rev. Davie worked with the Rev. Joshua Dubois, Obama’s faith director, and significantly contributed to the candidate Obama’s famed faith speech, and later accepted the invitation to join Obama’s Faith Based and Community Partnerships Council.
In New York City, Davie worked with several administrations including Mayor Dinkins, Mayor Bloomberg, and when Bill de Blasio was elected Mayor of New York City, he asked Davie to help organize his Faith Council and be the co-chair of this Public Safety Commission of the Faith Council.
Over the years Rev. Davie had been vocal around the need for better relationships between police and the community, and in 2016, Mayor de Blasio asked Davie to join the CCRB, and the following year Davie was appointed chair, formalized at an event at the iconic St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan, which seemed fitting. As Rev. Davie commented: “My journey to CCRB and then chair, were a natural part of my ministry. The position was a fulfillment of my call to make sure there is serious accountability in how police engaged the public.”
The challenges that Rev. Davie and the CCRB faced were substantial and included the strangling of Eric Garner by the police officer Daniel Pantaleo, against whom the CCRB returned charges and ensured that he was fired from the force – the first time in the history of the CCRB that the NYPD had upheld a recommendation of the firing of an officer.
Over the course of his tenure, Davie fought to ensure that the CCRB was well staffed and funded and given the authority to do its job, tying its budget to the NYPD budget. The CCRB also held officers accountable for issuing false statements and sexual misconduct charges.
A major test for the CCRB under Rev. Davie’s leadership came when George Floyd was murdered by the police in Minneapolis. In the days and weeks that followed, thousands of New Yorkers protested violence against Black people by the police.
Unfortunately, the response by the NYPD generated an enormous number of complaints – each one of which was investigated by the CCRB, and ultimately 80 officers were charged. The CCRB recommended the most serious discipline, including termination, against half of them. According to Davie, the NYPD response to the protests opened the public eye – including elected officials – to the need for reform, and the CCRB’s oversight and influence was expanded, including a move by legislators in Albany to remove the law that shielded the discipline records of officers.
All of this Davie views as his job as a Presbyterian minister: “I was doing it from a position of faith: my mandate as a Christian, as a believer, to love my neighbor as myself. I do recognize the power differential between police and civilians. My goal was to make sure that the victim was given opportunity for justice, and the officer was held accountable.”
Davie says that most officers do a good job. “When the system makes up its mind to hold the bad apples accountable that’s when things can change,” Davie said. “I never saw law enforcement as my enemy, I see them as a neighbor. I think during my tenure we made extraordinary progress advancing community and police as neighbors and partners in the pursuit of safety and service.”
The Reverend Frederick A. Davie, Senior Advisor for Racial Equity, executes IFYC programming with a primary focus on the intersection of race and religion such as “Black Interfaith” and similar initiatives and advises on IFYC programs with strong racial equity aspects.