A candidate for district leader endorsed by the Brooklyn Democratic Party is facing criticism after it emerged that he shared details about Black Lives Matter protest organizers with the NYPD.
Robert Berrios emailed names and photographs of the young organizers behind a peaceful June 7th Red Hook protest to NYPD Deputy Inspector Tania Kinsella, the Commanding Officer of NYPD Public Service Area 1, a police precinct covering public housing developments in the area. Berrios also provided details about the protest itself, including its planned route and the fact that protesters intended to stop at a Red Hook NYPD substation.
The 51-year-old Berrios added that he would attend the protest personally and feed details about it to the NYPD in real time: "I will be out there myself communicating with you guys," he wrote in the email.
A campaign pamphlet recently mailed by Berrios says the candidate is "working to reform our police force” and that he "stands with community leaders and their commitment to keep our police in check by repealing 50-A so that the NYPD can't hide their officers' disciplinary histories anymore."
Berrios is a graduate of the NYPD's Civilian Police Academy who works as an office supervisor and volunteers with the Red Hook Civic Association, according to his Linkedin profile. The NYPD's civilian police academy teaches "the very same concepts and content as taught to NYPD recruits," the NYPD says.
When reached by telephone Berrios did not dispute that he sent the email but declined to talk further: "I really can't speak on the matter."
He did, however, explain himself in a Facebook post also obtained by Gothamist. "I shared info with Deputy Inspector Kinsella for safety reasons. To assure the safety of all. If something goes down. So they can understand who they can reach out and at the same time that none of you are messed with," Berrios wrote.
Rodneyse Bichotte, the Brooklyn Democratic County Leader, has endorsed Berrios for the June 23rd Democratic Primary, for which early voting is already underway. Berrios is a candidate for District Leader of Assembly District 51, which covers Sunset Park, Red Hook, Bay Ridge, Borough Park and parts of South Park Slope. District leader is an entry-level, unpaid position, according to a 2018 WNYC report. They help run the party's activities in the district, including the selection of candidates for civil and housing court judgeships. Sometimes civil court judges become acting criminal court judges.
Berrios's opponent in the race is Julio Pena, III. Pena called Berrios's email "disturbing."
"These young leaders were preparing to peacefully protest in their community. Nothing more. That email could have very well endangered their lives," Pena said, adding that it was wrong that Assemblymember Felix W. Ortiz, who represents the area, and Bichotte, the Brooklyn Democratic County Leader, endorsed him.
"The days of business as usual and old school tactics need to end," Pena wrote in a text to Gothamist.
When provided with a copy of the email Berrios sent to the NYPD, a spokesperson for Bichotte declined to say whether she stands by her endorsement of Berrios, but told Gothamist "she will look into it."
Assemblymember Ortiz, who gathered the signatures to put Berrios on the ballot, told Gothamist that Berrios "made a big mistake. I talked to him about it. I told him it was a group of local people. I support their right to demonstrate 100%."
"It was unprofessional and unacceptable and he owes the community an apology," Ortiz added.
New York City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, whose district covers Red Hook, marched with the peaceful protest. It was led by a banner calling to "DEFUND THE POLICE" that was painted in the colors of the American flag: red, white and blue. Menchaca believes Berrios was trying to intimidate demonstrators.
"Many of the organizers and participants in the Red Hook protest are young people, who are exercising their First Amendment rights for the first time," Menchaca said in a statement. "Sending photos of these organizers to the police, with instructions of how and where to find them, and a promise to be there to help the police monitor them, is meant to intimidate. It assumes the intent behind the protests is criminal, which is totally unwarranted."
Berrios supplied the photographs of nine people and five names in his June 3rd email to the NYPD. One of them was Tevina Willis, the lead community organizer at the Red Hook Initiative. Referring to a Zoom meeting the group held to work through whether to hold a prayer vigil or a protest march, Willis said of Berrios, "It was like he came to the meeting and went back and gave a full detailed report to the police."
"Everyone whose photo is in that email is pissed. We were livid. No one wants their information given to the NYPD. It labeled us troublemakers," Willis told Gothamist.
Alicia Arrington was another person named by Berrios in his email to the NYPD. She and the three people whose photographs Berrios supplied to the police without names are employed by the Red Hook Justice Center, a community court operated by the Center for Court Innovation, according to Berrios's email.
In response, a spokesperson for the Center for Court Innovation told Gothamist: “The youth of Red Hook organized a meaningful rally. The Center for Court Innovation supports Black Lives Matter and our staff’s right to protest.”
Maria Nieto, a Red Hook resident and Writers Guild of America East screenwriter, said she was largely responsible for informing local residents about Berrios's email. She told Gothamist she saw it on a friend's Facebook page and reposted on hers. The email made her an "outraged citizen," she said. "It was absolutely an unAmerican thing to do. It is really McCarthyism. It is naming names. It is sending pictures."
"This is not what we do," Nieto added. "We do not rat out people to the police and run for office. The fact that his man is running for office in a position where he will appoint judges is absolutely horrifying to me."
Willis, the Red Hook organizer, agreed that Berrios should not have been nominated by the Democratic party for the district leader position: "This is not somebody who should be representing the Democratic party."
"It shows," she added, "a true disconnect between wherever they're sitting at and their constituency on the ground."