Dozens of major police departments across the country have dealt with a number of internal issues over the last few years and the Syracuse Police Department is no different. In 2019, a local resident accused an officer by the name of Chester Thompson of raping her as he responded to a 911 call. One year later, taxpayers were forced to shell out $400,000 to settle a pair of lawsuits involving an officer accused of brutalizing citizens. However, there was one small, bright spot in the dark cloud that hovered above the police force. His name is Brandon Hanks.
Brandon Hanks is a product of Syracuse, who overcame a ton of obstacles to land on the police force. In 2019, he received widespread praise because he created a program that helped police officers connect with the young kids in the neighborhoods that he grew up in. The program involved Hanks playing against local kids in a game of one-on-one. If Hanks won, kids would have to do a certain amount of push-ups. If Hanks lost, kids would get a new pair of sneakers. His program caught the attention of NBA champion Rajon Rondo, who sent Hanks 25 pairs of sneakers.
As Hanks' career as a police officer developed, he hoped to join the department's gang violence prevention task force. Unfortunately, police captain Timothy Gay and other members of the task force raised issues with Hanks. An internal memo obtained by The Daily Beast suggests that officers didn't want Hanks to join the force because they believed he had “known associations with gang members and convicted criminals.” Gay is accused of going as far as insinuating Hanks had a tattoo that was similar to local gang-affiliated residents.
Hanks' relationship with the Syracuse Police Department has grown tense in recent weeks. Backed by attorney Jesse Ryder, Hanks has filed a notice of claim against the Syracuse Police Department alleging that they have created a "hostile" and "Jim Crow" like work environment for Black officers. In an amended complaint filed on July 3, Hanks called the aforementioned internal memo "racist and false" and claimed that it was put together to damage his career.
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, who was named in the complaint, said that the city was in the process of reviewing all of the allegations.
“The allegations are concerning and hard to read,” Walsh said.
“Chief Buckner and I share a firm commitment to ensuring the SPD is a fair and equitable department with its officers and with the community. That is what we are striving for every day.”
Shortly after filing his first complaint, Hanks was internally reprimanded by the Syracuse Police Department for social media posts made over the last 18 months. In one post, Hanks is seen wearing his uniform as rap music using "racial slang" was played from a nearby car. Other posts dating back to last year were deemed inappropriate because the captions used "profane" language. Hanks has called his punishment “blatant retaliation” for highlighting the “blatantly racist culture within the Syracuse Police Department."
“We’re confident in the decision we made and why we made that decision,” Syracuse Police Department Chief Kenton Buckner told The Daily Beast.
However, local residents appear to be siding with Hanks. Syracuse pastor H. Bernard Alex is a former chair of a local police watchdog organization and has known Hanks nearly his entire life. Alex has been outspoken in his support for Hanks and his decision to call out the police force.
“They are penalizing him for doing what they want to happen. They want to build relationships. They want to build bridges. And now it’s like, I’m doing that but you’re telling me that’s wrong," Alex explained.
"He really was that guy that was trying to pull in that young group that is still making the decision on how they will feel about police or a career in policing."
Unfortunately, Hanks' situation is not unexpected. When he joined the police force in 2018, he says that fewer than 15% of his colleagues were Black. In contrast, Black residents make up nearly 35% of the city's population. Pushing out an officer like Hanks hurts the department's relationship with the city's Black communities and worsens diversity on the force.
The local pastor also addressed the internal memo that officer Gay was tied to. Alex explained that Hanks is not responsible for those he grew up with or their decisions.
“He did not make those decisions, obviously. He made the force," he added.
Moving forward, Hanks will pursue a $33 million settlement and a written commitment from the Syracuse Police Department to address the lack of Black officers on the police force.