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 (>http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/federal_support_for_local_law_enforcement_equipment_acquisition.pdf<) 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.

 

The Ferguson Verdict

On August 9th we were arriving back in Santa Fe after a vacation excursion to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and mesa Verde National Park.  Michael Brown was being shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri by police officer Darren Wilson.  Riots broke out throughout the St. Louis area as news broke that Brown had his hands up when the cop shot him.  The killing of unarmed Black men by police has become epidemic in America as racism rears its ugly head in opposition to a Black President.

I wasn’t able to watch the television coverage of the riots because the casita where I was staying didn’t have a TV but I did follow it on social media and through the New York Times.  Yesterday a grand jury decided no charges were to be filed against the police officer and more unrest followed.  Confronting violence with violence runs counter to everything Ghandi and martin Luther King Jr. have taught us.  Sometimes tempers flare however and great injustice demands civil disobedience.  That should never include violence though.  Looting, shootings and theft of other’s property won’t win any converts to one’s arguments.

We know we live in an era of The New Jim Crow where mass incarceration fueled by unconstitutional stop and frisk harassment by police is funded by federal government grants.  Growing up in America as a Black man is dangerous to one’s health and well being even in the 21st century.  America hasn’t really come very far in terms of race relations.  The virulent statements and deeds by the KKK regarding Ferguson amidst other threats to the President and other African Americans is ample evidence.

Speaking of evidence the grand jury decision came as no surprise to many.  There simply aren’t any consequences when white cops shoot African American men.  The testimony was taken by a grand jury which worked in secrecy with no cross examination of witnesses.  The lack of transparency makes it all suspicious which will only feed the sense that justice was denied.  If the prosecutor really wanted to pursue justice in this case he should have filed charges against Darren Wilson and let an open and public jury trial determine the evidence and render a verdict.  The Brown family, the people of Ferguson and the Black community nationwide was denied such justice.

Why is it we hardly ever hear of unarmed White men being gunned down by cops?  The militarization of police became a national issue because of Ferguson.  Many community activists and leaders have questioned the wisdom of such tactics following the vast over reaction seen on televisions by millions.  This may be the only good that comes from Ferguson.  Yesterday “verdict” was a shame.

Ferguson

Michael Brown’s remains have been interred.  With him go any pretense that racism in America is past us.  Any sense that electing a Black President put a four century old record of slavery, segregation, lynching and racism behind us is blasphemy.  Michael Brown was shot dead while unarmed and holding his hands over his head by a racist Ferguson, Missouri cop.  He was summarily executed for walking while Black in the middle of a street.  Unfortunately there have been hundreds of Michael Browns and dozens of Fergusons in America.  This particular one set off an entire community and ignited a sense of outrage among African-Americans tired of being targets of over militarized, racist police.

It has also revealed the depth of racism in America’s right wing.  The cop who committed the murder has been the recipient of $250,000 contributed by white racists who think he did the right thing.  Fox News went so far as to broadcast a fake story trying to raise sympathy for the man and excuse his actions.  The Ferguson Police Department released a partial video purportedly showing Brown shoplifting cigars.  Watching the entire, unedited video shows him paying for the items.

Such is America post-Ferguson:  a nation awash in unmitigated racism and a right wing unashamed in illustrating its racial hatred.  Right wing media has fanned the flames and cops stating virulently racist things in videos gone viral have fueled weeks of protests by Blacks in the suburban St. Louis town.

Ferguson is a predominantly African-American town ruled by white racists.  Because only 12% of its residents turned out to vote in the last Mayoral election it has a racist Administration and police department.  Our silence at the polls translates to the type of community in which we reside.  When a Black American, a poor American, a Union card carrying American doesn’t vote they have no voice.  They have no rights to a representative government truly seeing to their needs and protecting their rights.

The Michael Browns of Ferguson dug their own graves by neglecting to vote, by deciding not to participate in the system.  This is what they get in return and no amount of looting, protests or cries of anguish and remorse will atone for their sin of not voting.  Democracy is a wonderful thing:  we get what we deserve and we deserve what we get,  When we opt not to vote we then cannot turn around and complain at the outcome.  Ferguson is simply the latest example.