Restoring Trust In Police

Relations between African Americans and police have been bad ever since, well, who really knows when it began.  Maybe during slavery when Blacks were forcibly returned to bondage after escaping their horrid situations.  Maybe during segregation when local cops who were also members of the Klan looked away or participated in massive civil rights violations.  Maybe those same cops who helped lynch Blacks and cops today who don’t think twice before killing Blacks.  It’s been a long, dark history of bad relations which is manifesting itself in the civil disobedience and rioting we’re witnessing as a result of too many killings and not enough justice.

How do we begin to mend these relationships, how do we police the police and how do we begin to build trust in the Black community?  Stop and Frisk has been a major factor in distrust and the mass incarceration of Blacks and the targeting of the Black community for drug enforcement when we know drug use is evenly split among all classes and races have both contributed to the problem.

Police forces are responsible to the community.  Voters must elect responsible Mayors and town council members who will oversee, hire and train their police forces properly.  One of the problems in Ferguson has been the apathy of the African American population in this regard.  With only a 15% voter turnout in its last Mayoral election they abdicated their responsibility to elect a Mayor who would see to their concerns.  Now they have an oppressive police department which thinks it has a license to kill any Black man it sees walking down the street.  It not only thinks so, it did.  With impunity.

Officer Darren Wilson not only got away with murder he is now a millionaire as a result (thanks ABC).  So the message sent is that a cop can become a millionaire by shooting to death any Black man he wants.  We just reinforced this perception and made the matter worse.

The first step, as I see it is for citizens to get involved locally.  First of all we need to vote and educate ourselves as to each candidate.  Go to campaign events, call in and question them during TV appearances or in public places and ascertain what their attitudes are regarding community relations and police oversight.  The police serve US and unless we hold them accountable (and those to whom they report) we are part of the problem.

Find out how your community police would react to a Ferguson situation.    Is your local force militarized and how would they respond?  Be proactive about this, not reactive.  By that I mean start NOW by asking questions.  Don’t wait until a Michael Brown is killed in your community and it becomes Ferguson.

The White House stepped up today with a program of its own:

FACT SHEET: Strengthening Community Policing

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and around the country have highlighted the importance of strong, collaborative relationships between local police and the communities they protect.  As the nation has observed, trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services.

In August, President Obama ordered a review of federal funding and programs that provide equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies (LEAs).  Today, the Obama Administration released its Review:  Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition, and the President is also taking a number of steps to strengthen community policing and fortify the trust that must exist between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.

White House Review: Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition

Today, the White House released its review which provides details on the programs that have expanded over decades across multiple federal agencies that support the acquisition of equipment from the federal government to LEAs.  During the course of its review, the White House explored whether existing federal programs:

provide LEAs with equipment that is appropriate to the needs of their communities,

ensure that LEAs have adequate policies in place for the use of the equipment and that personnel are properly trained and certified to employ the equipment they obtain, and

encourage LEAs to adopt organizational and operational practices and standards that prevent misuse/abuse of the equipment.

The report finds a lack of consistency in how federal programs are structured, implemented and audited, and informed by conversations with stakeholders, identifies four areas of further focus that could better ensure the appropriate use of federal programs to maximize the safety and security of police officers and the communities they serve:  1) Local Community Engagement, 2) Federal Coordination and Oversight, 3) Training Requirements, and 4) The Community Policing Model.

Consistent with the recommendations in the report, the President instructed his staff to draft an Executive Order directing relevant agencies to work together and with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to develop specific recommendations within 120 days.  Some broad examples of what process improvements agencies might implement as a result of further collaborative review include:

Develop a consistent list of controlled property allowable for acquisition by LEAs and ensure that all equipment on the list has a legitimate civilian law enforcement purpose.

Require local civilian (non-police) review of and authorization for LEAs to request or acquire controlled equipment.

Mandate that LEAs which participate in federal equipment programs receive necessary training and have policies in place that address appropriate use and employment of controlled equipment, as well as protection of civil rights and civil liberties.  Agencies should identify existing training opportunities and help LEAs avail themselves of those opportunities, including those offered by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and the International Association of Law Enforcement Standards and Training.

Require after-action analysis reports for significant incidents involving federally provided or federally-funded equipment.

Harmonize federal programs so that they have consistent and transparent policies.

Develop a database that includes information about controlled equipment purchased or acquired through Federal programs.

Click HERE (><) for the White House’s review of Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition.

Task Force on 21st Century Policing

The President similarly instructed his team to draft an executive order creating a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and announced that the Task Force will be chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who also serves as President of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, and Laurie Robinson, professor at George Mason University and former Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs.  The Task Force will include, among others, law enforcement representatives and community leaders and will operate in collaboration with Ron Davis, Director of DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office. The Task Force will build on the extensive research currently being conducted by COPS; will examine, among other issues, how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust; and will be directed to prepare a report and recommendations within 90 days of its creation.

Community Policing Initiative

The President also proposes a three-year $263 million investment package that will increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement agencies (LEAs), add more resources for police department reform, and multiply the number of cities where DOJ facilitates community and local LEA engagement. As part of this initiative, a new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program would provide a 50 percent match to States/localities who purchase body worn cameras and requisite storage.  Overall, the proposed $75 million investment over three years could help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras. The initiative as a whole will help the federal government efforts to be a full partner with state and local LEAs in order to build and sustain trust between communities and those who serve and protect these communities.


NY Stop and Frisk Struck Down

The racist stop and frisk programs which result in high numbers of African-Americans being targeted by police, arrested, imprisoned then stripped of their rights has been declared unconstitutional in New York by a federal judge.  The fact these programs, funded largely by federal dollars, seem confined to minority neighborhoods when facts show illegal drug use is the same across all ethnic and class barriers, illustrate their racist nature.

Michelle Alexander did a wonderful job exposing this in her book “The New Jim Crow.”  These cops never go into wealthy or gated communities and randomly stop people and search them for drugs.  The outrage that would unleash exempts them from the programs making them unjust.

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s ruling stems from a class-action lawsuit claiming that the city’s police officers routinely stopped minority men, particularly blacks and Latinos, without legal reasons.


Law and Order and Racism

While at the Democratic State Committee meeting last weekend I had an exchange with a candidate who bragged his Republican opponent would not be able to “out law and order me.”  I wasn’t pleased to hear a Democratic candidate using a racist policy as a campaign platform and said so.  He thought I was calling him a racist and got upset.  I wasn’t, I said the policy was racist and he needed to read “The New Jim Crow” to understand why it is racist.  Simply supporting a policy isn’t racist unless you understand it is racist.  Only if you do and remain supportive are you racist also.  This is an important difference.

Law and order platforms are racist because they have been used to justify the mass incarceration of minorities.  Michelle Alexander lays it out quite thoroughly in her book and, rather than re-write her book here I urge everyone to read it and understand this important issue.  Further you can watch the two hour discussion we had on the book and issue on a recent BCTV segment of “Community Conversations.”

“The New Jim Crow”

Last evening I participated in a panel discussion of the book “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander on BCTV.  

Book photo TheNewJimCrow_zps30c53226.jpg

Alexander presents a strong case that the mass incarceration of people of color is an intentional, organized effort to replace slavery and Jim Crow with a new system to subjugate African-Americans and Hispanics.  Ronald Reagan decalred a War  On Drugs in 1982 and shortly thereafter cocaine and crack began flooding American cities.  Mass media dwelt on the new problem of crackheads and crime in inner cities although facts show white suburban residents use and sell as many illegal drugs as minorities in urban areas.  Federal funds poured into police departments and stop and frisk raids became routine subjecting young Black men to illegal searches.  Eventually we filled our prisons with minorities labeled felons for minor drug convictions.  Mandatory minimum sentencing laws were enacted and the Supreme Court closed the courthouse doors to appeals based on racial discrimination.

Today our prison industrial complex, including for profit privatized prisons, are incarcerating two million souls, most for minor drug offenses.  At a cost of $30,000/prisoner/year taxpayers are shouldering a burden many of them openly support.  Politicians who ran on “tough on crime” platforms sent code words to their racist supporters that they’d incarcerate Black Americans.  Once out of prison the system was changed to deny them not only the right to vote or sit on juries but to food stamps, subsidized housing, welfare and jobs.  Ironically the only way left for them to support themselves was in the underground, illegal economy.

The book is intriguing and upsetting.  The picture it paints of racist America made me angry that we allowed this to happen.  This is an important book which I urge everyone to read.