New York Police Join Forces with Harlem’s Youth

July 14, 2020 by
Photo Credit: NYPD CrossFit/Afrobrutality
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It’s shortly after lunch in Upper Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood, and already there’s a collection of police vans and vehicles parked and huddled around an area of the Morningside Park, a public park that sits at the western border of Harlem. A collection of NYPD officers, and local youth from the area prepare for a struggle, but as a photographer snaps photos of the group unloading bumper plates, and medicine balls out of the police vans, it becomes clear that the nature of the event about to take place is much different than the ones typically seen under these circumstances.

A joint workout between police and the Harlem youth community is about to unfold in the park, with players from the Harlem Jets youth football team, and roughly 40 police officers from every precinct in Harlem along with the housing authority, and Chief of Counterterrorism.

  • The struggle this time is purposeful, and shared, as both come together under the umbrella of exercise and use sweat equity as a means to build meaningful bridges in a current social climate that would otherwise place the two groups at odds.

NYPD CrossFit, a law enforcement affiliate founded in 2018 with more than 250 members reached out to Syn Martinez, former owner of CrossFit Harlem and founder of Afrobrutality Sports, and together they organized the event. Martinez has long been a proponent of fitness and the CrossFit methodology in the Harlem area as a means to educate and unify people of all walks of life; the workout in the park is the result of his latest efforts to bring people in the community together.

  • During CrossFit Harlem’s formative years, Martinez and his Afrobrutality crew trained a collection of NYPD officers that included current Chief of Collaborative Policing Lori Pollock. The time in the gym helped build trusting relationships that set the foundation for events like the park workout.
  • Martinez: “It was always about a banner of brutal workouts that were a platform for the development of relationships that otherwise might not happen in the streets. All walks of life were welcome, and the only thing that mattered was that you showed up, and worked hard.”

The relationship forged with the officers in the gym eventually brought Martinez to the table with the NYPD to discuss ways to develop outreach programs and initiatives like the joint workouts aimed at getting cops inside local gyms and affiliates to work out and learn alongside a Harlem community that is predominantly Black and Hispanic.

  • Harlem has long been an integral piece of black culture in the United States. With streets and infrastructure named after prominent black figures such as Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Jackie Robinson, a short walk through the neighborhood provides a glimpse into the modern history of African-Americans in the United States that includes the issues between the black community and law enforcement.
  • Martinez: “In the gym we can get both groups to the table to talk about things like fear-based decisions, hand-to-hand combat, and all the other pressing issues that have been points of tension while we have them in the gym and on a level playing field. One of the biggest obstacles has always been the inability to simply have a conversation.”

Tuesday’s workout was only the beginning of what Martinez hopes is a growing series of positive, community oriented events between the NYPD and the Harlem community, with future events already in the works — one potentially taking place on Wall Street later this month — building off of the lessons learned from the initial park workout and his time at CrossFit Harlem.

  • Martinez also revealed that police departments from other major cities have been in contact and are looking to use fitness as a conduit for positive change in their communities as well.

“We’re gonna try and make this as beautiful as possible,” states Martinez, “really set the stage so that my community, and the police community really show up big for each other.”

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