Former New York City Council Member Dr. Kendall Stewart has been speaking out against alleged New York Police Department (NYPD) harassment after filing lawsuits accusing some officers of unfairly targeting businesses that cater to Brooklyn’s Caribbean community, including his own.
Vincentian-born Stewart and his son, Omar, have both filed suit against the NYPD, as well as the city, claiming that their lounge, Café Omar, in East Flatbush has been unfairly targeted by the NYPD.
“As a prominent member of the community for over 35 years, I was shocked by the level of hostility and disregard of simple human decency the officers displayed when interacting with me and other members of the community,” Stewart told Caribbean Life in detailing what he described as utter harassment by the NYPD. “As a doctor running a successful medical practice for the past 30 years, as a former District leader and state assembly man that was intimately involved with community activities, and as a former two-term New York City Councilman who served the city well, and brought millions of dollars in funding and resources to the local constituents, I was deeply saddened by what has occurred and continue to occur in my community.”
Stewart – a trained podiatrist and predecessor to Councilman Jumaane Williams, representative for the 45th Council District in Brooklyn – noted that East Flatbush in Central Brooklyn is “a community with the highest concentration of Caribbean Americans in the United States.
“But, unfortunately, it appears that many of the local police officers prey on local businesses and abuse their authority, rather than trying to understand the culture and compliment the community’s diversity,” he said.
He said two weeks before a “highly anticipated event” at Café Omar, “Lt. Lumbardi told me I must cancel the event.”
“Due to the contracts and investments over US$50,000.00, I was hesitant and tried to communicate with the 67th Police Department [Precinct] to either get a letter or find out details to mitigate damages,” Stewart said, stating that, on the day of the event and prior to opening the business, he brought all parties involved to the 67th Precinct in an attempt to resolve the issue.
“Lt. Lumbardi refused to meet with me, but I was able to get an audience with the neighborhood community officer Nelson,” the doctor and business man said. “My manager Dr. Omar Stewart [his son, who is also a medical doctor and lawyer], my promoter Danny Love, and I asked Officer Nelson for a written document that would state that the 67th Precinct advises us not to have the event, giving us ‘good cause’ to legally cancel all contracts and cancel the event entirely.
“Officer Nelson replied ‘no further explanation’ is needed,” Stewart said, adding that when all parties returned to Café Omar, “a police car was waiting outside.”
When the event did occur in August 2016, he said a police officer entered the premises at 11 pm and issued 14 tickets, “stating that the visit is a random business inspection.”
Stewart said Lt. Lumbardi further told him that we must coordinate with Neighborhood Community Officer (NCO) Nelson.
“Lt. Lumbardi told me, through NCO Nelson, that I must cancel all future events scheduled for the West Indian Day Cultural Celebration at Café Omar, stating that he did not want any crime in his Precinct area, although he admitted Café Omar was not responsible for any crimes thus far,” he said.
“Officer Nelson further commented that, if I do have an event, he will shut down the business and lock everyone in the establishment up,” he added. “I complied. NCO Nelson then said the precinct did not want us to have any major events until the following year. I complied.”
Stewart said he had several meetings with Nelson, who, he said, suggested that Stewart give him a list of all future events, “so that the precinct can assist me. I complied.”
In January last year, Stewart said he compiled a list of all the events for the month of January and February, and gave the list to NCO Nelson “in order to work with the 67th Precinct.
Stewart said NCO Nelson “assured me that everything is ok.”
During his first event on Jan. 28 last year, Stewart said officers entered Café Omar, went directly to the bar and asked for the name on the list that was presented to NCO Nelson.
Stewart, who was not in town at the time, said he had left the business in the care of son, Omar, the manager.
According to Omar’s account, Stewart said Omar “promptly showed” the officers the liquor license and all the necessary paperwork for the establishment, “but the police officers refused to inspect them and stated that they ‘do not have my liquor license’ in their records”.
“The police officers then pulled out the same compiled list of events that was given to NCO Nelson, and demanded that I close down the establishment and cancel all future events,” Stewart said. “My son did not argue, and stated that the valid liquor license is posted visibly over the bar.”
Stewart said he went to the community board to voice his concerns in addition to attempting to get direct contact with the commanding officer and Lt. Lumbardi.
“The community board indicated that they have similar concerns, and that many other nightlife businesses in the community have gone through similar treatment, which it is now a common occurrence,” he said. “If the officers involved have no qualms about inflicting such abuses of power to a prominent pillar of the community, such as myself, can you imagine what has not been reported by normal every day citizens fearful of police vindictive repercussions?
“Also, I do not believe such a broad range of abuse, with so much officers, can occur without approval from superior officers and a systematic blind eye and deaf ear to the concerns of the local constituents,” Stewart added.
But the NYPD said it has good reason for coming to the Stewart’s place so often: There are plenty of noise and overcrowding complaints.
“The NYPD responds to locations based on community complaints, including crime complaints and 311 and 911 calls,” NYPD spokesman Lt. John Grimpel said. “As you can see by the history of this establishment, it’s a problematic location.”
But the Stewarts believe that it’s racism, not noise complaints, that has the NYPD on their backs, according to TheGrio, a New York-based black news publication.
“The defendants did not treat white-owned businesses in the same manner as they treated the Caribbean-owned business,” the lawsuit says.