Posted by Kazemde Ajamu on Jun 16th 2020

Re-Imagining Police Reform

“The children who are not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth”

~Afrikan Proverb

The unrest we’re currently witnessing is no great surprise. I’m surprised it has taken this long for America to have this toughest of conversations. Nor should anyone be surprised that the killings of our Brothers and Sisters at the hands of police or vigilantes will continue. My Mother always said “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” More maddening is we as a community, continue doing the same things and expecting a different result. We as Black people are at war…fighting on multiple fronts… for our children and our sanity. Fighting for dignity and simple human justice on multiple fronts tells us that new strategies and tactics are necessary. As a community we as Black people must learn from one another. These unique times suggests that those who care about justice must be at the table. And those of us at the table, must be mature enough, committed enough, and WISE enough to hear all ideas. Nothing should be left off the table, AND ALL OF US must be committed to learning…new strategies, new tactics, and new ideas, intergenerational sharing, new ways to resolve conflict and researching what others are doing.

There are multiple discussions taking place around the country amongst different segments of the population. A number of agenda items are on the table pertaining to the Black community and law enforcement. One topic under review…once again… is the call for the creation of Civilian Review Boards. On the contrary…studies have shown many problems with this citizen activist model. Research shows Civilian Review Boards are highly political, partisan enterprises ineffective, without decision-making powers and without backbone as Mayors demur to the needs of the police. These boards are historically low funded operations with minimal or no staffing. It begs the question…if these entities cannot address at the most basic level, citizen’s complaints about police, must black people spend valuable time and political capital working to create them?

Should our strategies then be electoral? We should work to elect county attorney’s willing to prosecute and take action against police misconduct in the Black community. Cities such as Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco have done so and have made an incredible difference…refusing to prosecute victimless crimes, and prosecuting police officers for misconduct, eliminating cash bail, and, in this pandemic, releasing those awaiting trial for non-violent crimes or who’s age might make incarceration a death sentence.

Do we use our collective clout to impact state attorney’s general and the Federal department of Justice? Let’s take a look at what some organizations and advocates are doing.

Color of Change—a nonprofit racial justice organization, launched a unique tool…: a searchable database of “every prosecutor in all 2,372 municipal jurisdictions in the United States. The database, part of a larger project called Winning Justice, is meant to hold top county prosecutors accountable for their actions, as well as create a mirror of transparency for the public.

Another justice non-profit. Campaign Zero has done extensive work on police reform. Campaign Zero created an 8 point police reform package called 8cantwait. 8 Cantwait speaks directly to the current times we live in today:

1. Ban Chokeholds & Strangleholds

2. Require De-Escalation

3. Require warning before shooting

4. Exhaust all alternatives before shooting

5. Duty to intervene

6. Ban shooting at moving vehicles

7. Establish use of force continuum

8. Require all force be reported

*** Data proves that together these eight policies can decrease police violence by 72%

On Capitol Hill Senator Kamala Harris is advocating for tightening the national standard for the use of lethal force law enforcement. The current standard is:

“In the United States, the use of deadly force by sworn law enforcement officers is lawful when the officer reasonably believes the subject poses a significant threat of serious bodily injury or death to themselves or others.”

What Sen. Harris proposes is to change the standard to whether or not lethal force is necessary at all. If this small but significant change becomes law, we could see a higher number of police convictions and certainly less police shootings.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA 45th District) proposes creating a national database to track officers who were fired for using excessive force from securing employment as a law enforcement office in another jurisdiction. I, personally like this proposal, but in my view, it doesn’t go far enough. For example, If the federal Department of Justice is responsible for managing the database it would be subject to the political whims of whatever party is in office…on the left and on the right Allow me to share a little story

.A couple of years ago I was appointed to serve on a commission to interview and recommend candidates for a new chief of Police. The Committee reviewed resumes, interviewed candidates and provide recommendations to the City Council. A quality I was looking for in a Chief was their acceptance and commitment to work as partners with community leadership…A Police Chief that would come into the community and encourage his or her officers to do the same. Relationship building, in my view is critical for successful police community relations. As a commission member, I was able to see clearly the pitfalls that exists in the system.

For instance, I quickly learned about POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) When an officer is under investigation or has been disciplined, that action is annotated onto POST. POST has the power to revoke, suspend or place officers on probation. However, in Georgia, accused Officers will resign before an investigation is completed and secure employment as law enforcement officers in a new jurisdiction without penalty. In Lithonia Georgia for example an officer was charged with rape and aggravated assault Previously this officer was a policeman in Atlanta, where he resigned due to misconduct. The officer in question, David Wilborn, POST had this to say about him

“Wilborn allegedly admitted to supervisors that he approached the woman at the lingerie shop where she worked, followed her into a back room and engaged in the act, POST records show. The police department sustained the allegations for absence from duty and conduct unbecoming an officer. In 2010, Wilborn’s police certification was suspended for two years and he received a public reprimand from the POST council. He was hired by the Lithonia Police department in July 2017.”

Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution

In another high profile killing, the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice, Timothy Loehmann was removed from one department after he showed a “dangerous and reckless loss of composure” during firearms training” yet he was hired as a patrolman for the Cleveland Police Department. After killing 12 year old Tamir, Timothy Loehmann is now a patrolman with the The Bellaire Police Department, a community of 4,000 across the Ohio River from West Virginia. The point is, Officers not convicted of a crime can escape discipline and move to different departments.

In all cases of police misconduct the American taxpayer bears the brunt of it. When families sue, that financial settlement comes out of the pockets of the taxpayers…the very same community that’s been injured.

The best policy that I have seen, comes from One Million Conscious & Conscientious Black Contributors & Voters (OMCCBCV). Their policy plank concerning Police Reform, proposed back in 2016, never got any traction. I’m not sure why. I assume police political activity had something to do with it. However, I highly recommend studying this proposal and implementing it. Admittedly even in this current political climate, this policy would be tough to pass and enact. however, if we as a Black community embrace our political power and use ii effectively, I believe we can win. We simply need to provide our elected leadership the backbone to secure the justice that we seek.

“All duly sworn enforcement officers and their administrative superiors should be required at their own expense, or with assistance from their unions, to purchase an maintain in effect, misconduct insurance similar in nature to the malpractice insurance that is required of doctors and other medical professionals, so that they are held financially accountable to whomever they wrongfully harm in violation of rights assured by the United States constitution or financially accountable to the family members of anyone they murdered “

The implementation of Misconduct insurance for all law enforcement officials will go a long way to reform the use of lethal force laws. Insurance companies are uniquely qualified to provide oversight because it’s about money and not politics and/or relationships. Insurance companies would only be interested in protecting their bottom line, paying out as few settlements as possible. If mandated by law that all instances of misconduct or use of force is documented, Insurance companies can increase premiums on the officer or the department or if sufficient changes or reforms are not implemented, drop the insurance policy, rendering that officer or officers unable to work anywhere. If a death occurs at the hands of police and a wrongful death suit is brought by the family, the taxpayer by law would not bear that expense.

Police Departments should also be held accountable through a rating system. Patterns and Practice violations must come at a cost to the department. Departmental budgets should decrease, and officer’s premiums should increase. We are told constantly that there are more good officers than bad, yet, because of the “Blue Code of Silence” the good ones remain silent. Misconduct insurance would provide financial incentive to cleanse the department of bad police officers.

Many of us are ask what should we do? What can we do to significantly impact this crisis our community is facing at a time when we are also facing a pandemic, massive unemployment, business closings, hunger, and lack ? We are traumatized by institutional racism. The lies of America have been exposed for all the world to see. In the spirit of our ancestors and for the future of our young, it is incumbent upon us to act. Register to vote. Read. Ask questions. Think Get involved. Take control of our lives and our communities. Our children’s future depends upon it.