The Real News Town Hall Pt. 3: Should the Community Control the Police?

Story Transcript

[APPLAUSE]

MARC STEINER, HOST, TRNN TOWN HALL: Welcome to The Real News’ Town Hall. I’m Marc Steiner, your host for this evening, and host of The Marc Steiner Show on WEAA 88.9 FM.

We’re going to continue our conversation about police brutality and asking the important questions, what can Baltimoreans do to live in safe communities? How can we organize to protect ourselves and our communities and create these civilian review boards? Let’s look at cities across North America that have been able to address or are working to address police brutality. Real News producer Jaisal Noor takes us on that journey. Let’s take a look.

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Communities across the nation are grappling with how to address police brutality. Fatal police shootings are at their highest level in two decades, according to an analysis of FBI crime data. With Baltimore’s police review board not having the power to actually hold officers accountable, it’s worth looking at those in several cities around the country that do.

Cincinnati has a model review board that was established after federal intervention into longstanding accusations of brutality, profiling, and the killing of the 15th black man in six years by police resulted in a three-day uprising by enraged community members. Stakeholders, including the union, agreed police practices needed an overhaul.

In the case of a fatal shooting, police are now required to hold a press conference within 12 hours, release the name of the officers involved, along with the dashcam footage from the squad car. Members of the independent Citizen Complaint Authority are appointed by the mayor, but approved by the City Council. Unlike Baltimore’s board, it can subpoena officers and is mandated to investigate every noncriminal accusation within 48 hours of the complaint being filed. Discipline is determined by board vote and handed down by the city manager outside of the police chain of command.

But the ACLU of Ohio’s Michael Brickner says police abuse does continue.

MICHAEL BRICKNER, SENIOR POLICY DIRECTOR, ACLU OF OHIO: Collaborative agreement was not some silver bullet that takes away all policing issues, in that I would never represent that there aren’t still problems in Cincinnati, that race profiling does still occur, that there are incidences of excessive use of force in Cincinnati and there have been throughout the process.

NOOR: Another model review board is Washington, D.C.’s Office of Police Complaints, also established after a civil rights investigation and resulting consent decree. [For a] city similar in size to Baltimore, the board has a $2 million budget, full-time staff, and 20 investigators, versus Baltimore’s all-volunteer board with one investigator and a shoestring budget.

SEEMA SADANANDAN, POLICY AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR, ACLU OF THE NATION’S CAPITAL: In the national context, the D.C. police complaint review board is one of the most effective, one of the models. However, it is almost completely ineffective. At this point, we are seeing very, very few complaints which are being sustained, and where they are sustained, the chief of police, Chief Lanier, has–you know, her position is that the recommendations of the complaint review board are sort of advisory opinions, she doesn’t have to follow them.

NOOR: The Washington, D.C., Office of Police Complaints board does not have the power to hire and fire the police chief. Instead, the chief reports to the mayor.

Detroit is another city that faced federal investigation after police killed nearly 50 people in five years. Before it was dissolved by Detroit’s emergency manager, its civilian review board was elected and had the power to nominate the chief of police. Activists credit reform with a sharp drop in the number of African Americans killed by police.

By contrast, the City of Toronto’s Police Services Board is a very different model. The board is comprised of two City Council members, civilians appointed by the city and the province, and the mayor can choose to sit on the board or be replaced with another City Council member. The police chief handles discipline, but the board hires and has the power to fire the chief. And after being criticized for not better overseeing the highly maligned police response to the 2010 G20 protest, where over 1,100 people were arrested, the board is now asserting its authority over day-to-day policing.

But despite the board’s efforts to stop racial profiling of the City of Toronto’s lowest income communities of color, press investigations and public surveys have found the practices persist. It’s caused a public dispute between Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and board chair Alok Mukherjee. The police chief has publicly attacked Mukherjee for saying he found the ongoing racial profiling “extremely disturbing and problematic”.

The Toronto experience shows having a powerful review board can address policing practices but needs popular support to fully implement its legislative mandate.

From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.

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FIRE ANGELOU, SPOKEN-WORD ARTIST AND ACTIVIST: They want to shoot my people cause we’re shooting stars, want to dim our light, hate how bright we are. And /s?s’t?rz/ aroma is smelling pretty hot. Commit in my kinship–hate how tight we are. Now racism had a mistress named White Privilege. She put her feet up, let the colored folk do the dishes. Being black is just like being a bicyclist in a world that’s predominantly car-centric. The system’s not broken, not meant for you. You colonize my land and then you colonize my classroom. Our lineage don’t have a lane. Pursuit of freedom filled with pain. If Aunt Jemima was to sing, it would sound like acid rain. They speak hatred into ourselves before we speak for ourselves. Now we can’t speak at all unless blood is the motivation. Got to get shot down in the street before peace becomes impatient, striving for justice in the jungle, where tigers can’t be tamed. I got the language in last name. I’m the a reminder of the pain, a reminder of the death, the colonization contest. Police treat black boys like liquor shots–whose round is going to be next? See guns make God out if humans, make men into martyrs. There’s no life in tomorrow. Blood showers and sorrow, morning into the morning, so tired our soul starts yawning. So we wait on freedom like the second coming, as if we got time like the seconds coming. He got shot once, but here’s the second coming. Then the blood starts running and complacency confronted. So what you going to do when your freedoms revoked, when your distractions go up in smoke? Are you going to sit by the TV while they hook up the IV, screaming freedom, freedom, we ain’t seen none! Seen none! Freedom! Freedom! We ain’t seen none! Seen none! See, they want to shoot my people ’cause we’re shooting stars, want to dim our lights, hate how bright we are. And /s?s’t?rz/ aroma is smelling pretty hot. Commit in my kinship–hate how tight we are.

[APPLAUSE]

STEINER: So we want to thank Fire Angelou, this incredible poet, for “Shooting Star” and how she puts into the words of a–the poet puts into words the feeling that people have throughout this community about what people are facing.

I want to thank you for what you bring to us. Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

So, in this part of our conversation, I really want to wrestle with, here at Real News, with the question about what do we do, how do we make this work. I’m going to do this in two parts to open it up. The first part, I would like to turn back to Alok for a minute and focus for a minute on–with you about the difficulties in doing what you do on a civilian review board, how it doesn’t always work, the opposition you might face to stop what you’re doing and clear the tensions between you and some of the police. But what are some of the obstacles to the work of a civilian board, even in a place like Toronto, where it might work fairly decently.

ALOK MUKHERJEE, CHAIR, TORONTO POLICE SERVICES BOARD: Right. My first part was the good part. This is the not-so-good part.

Clearly, as you saw, there are moments when there is resistance or there’s lack of agreement. And it happened, for example, at the time of G20. And–.

STEINER: Which was an international meeting of leaders in Toronto that people protested.

MUKHERJEE: It was [crosstalk] were some of the leaders from across the country. They met in downtown Toronto. And what we found was the board’s policies were not implemented, even though the board was assured that they will be. And I brought in a retired chief justice of the province to look at governance and what was deficient.

It always goes back to one thing, and that’s in the law. The law makes a separation between policymaking, which is the board’s responsibility, and implementation, or operation, which is the chief’s responsibility. And the law says the board will not interfere with the day-to-day operational matters.

STEINER: So before–let me just interrupt for for a minute Alok, ’cause I’m going to turn to Paul Jay just very quickly, because, Paul, when The Real News was out of Toronto and you were doing work there and you covered what Alok was talking about with the G20–so could you just describing a moment from actually what happened there to give people a sense of what was going on that created this board? And then we’ll come back to Alok and come back to our guests.

PAUL JAY, CEO, TRNN: Yeah. The ombudsman of Ontario called what the Toronto police did the gravest violation of civil rights in the history of Canada. I think it was a bit of overstatement when you look at happened to native peoples. But at any rate, about 1,000 people got arrested. At least 1,000 or more got viciously beaten, and beaten with impunity. There were cameras everywhere. Every officer knew everything they were doing was on tape. And everyone obviously knew there would be no repercussions. Horses were driven over top of people. Women were threatened with rape as they were taken and hauled. They actually did snatch-and-grabs Latin American style, where they would take a protester, reach them into a van, and drive off to the holding place. They were shooting tear gas into people’s faces. It was at a level that was so disproportionate to what was going on, because it is almost entirely a peaceful demonstration, except for a small group called the Black Bloc, which had been infiltrated by the police completely and came out in court that some of the Black Bloc people who were advocating violence were actually cops.

It was a set up. It was a rehearsal. It was a rehearsal for when–excuse me–the shit really hits the fan sometime in the next few years and there really are thousands of people in the streets very angry. Toronto police and police forces around North America are learning how to suppress mass protests.

The review board was kept out. It turned out it was actually a federal operation. The RCMP was leading all this.

STEINER: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

JAY: Yeah. But it was a grave, grave series of abuse. They turned the whole of downtown Toronto into what the ombudsman called martial law. There was no rights. So Alok and his review board afterwards had to kind of make some sense of it.

STEINER: So, Alok, so pick it up from there and whether or not the review boards are the answer and how that all occurred.

MUKHERJEE: Well–and that is a very good example of what happens when policy is separated in such a watertight manner in law from operations. So we brought in a former chief justice. This is his report, “Independent Civilian Review Into Matters Relating to the G20 Summit”. And it’s about governance. How does a community govern its police in the public interest? And the judge made significant recommendations, which we have implemented.

One of the things the board did do–back up a little. Actually, today is very interesting in the City of Toronto while I’m here. The superintendent who ordered the kettling of 420 innocent people in pouring rain on Sunday evening of this summit is now on trial, and his trial began today.

[APPLAUSE]

It took a long time, so many years. And the trial–and I’m sure it’s the same here–it’s a hearing by a judge. It’s public. So public can see it happen. The evidence will be shown in public.

The other thing the board did: there were 100 police officers who violated board policy and removed their name badges in order to conceal their identity. I asked the board to withhold their recommendations for their reclassifications– that is, lose their promotions–for six months. That was a significant monetary disincentive, to go back to what you said, to make the point that board policies matter and you will follow board policy.

But there is a big gap, and that becomes the big challenge: how does the board make sure that the operations are truly in compliance with intended policy? And right now, that has crystallized around the issue you have been talking about this evening, how does Toronto police interact with people of color generally and black youth in particular. There have been data for several years that there was over-policing of black youth. And it was called carding. Unlike stop and search year, it’s called carding. [inaud.] in the name of informal contact or being stopped. And their particulars, as well as their friend’s particulars, were being put in police databases.

STEINER: So let me ask this question, Alok, [incompr.] we can get other people into this conversation as well. So one of the things, the subtext here, to me, anyway, is that these things don’t work unless there’s a force in the community push them to work.

MUKHERJEE: That’s right. So one of the newspapers, Toronto Star, took this story up since 1999. And every two, three years, they did a complete statistical analysis. And when the last analysis came, I said, this has gone way beyond the level of acceptance, and the board is going to step in now. Obviously, the service has not–police service has not.

So we brought in a policy, after over a year’s work, called Community Contacts Policy.

STEINER: So let me do this. I want to come right back to you. But I want to kind of get this conversation moving in a certain direction, and a promised I would do this one thing. I want Ray [to] talk a bit about the other two cities where he’s been studying, where it’s working halfway decently. And then I did promise the people who have the mics in their hands–we’re going to get to their thoughts, but please keep them focused to where we are. And then we’re going to get all around the room. We’re getting to everybody, okay? But Ray Winbush, please come in.

DR. RAY WINBUSH, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR URBAN RESEARCH: There’s only two cities where there is any kind of effective community review boards: Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon. In all of those cities, the FOP has opposed police oversight. They don’t want it. And they’ll tell you that. If they don’t–if they do get it, they will also sue to get it. So, you know, like, you asked the question earlier whether or not there would be–you know, we want community review. I would love one. But whether or not it’s going to be effective is a totally different story, and it’s the exception and is a minor exception rather than the rule.

STEINER: So let me do this, this quick piece that I want to interject here for the audience to get a sense of, because when we talk about building movements in this city and getting things moving, there’s an example in our midst [incompr.] for just a minute pull out that example, because it’s a group of small people who made a huge difference in this last election and began to push the city in a different direction. And so let me just go there, and then we can come back [incompr.] all of you with the mics to continue this, ’cause I think this is an important piece to where we could go and how.

And, Sonia, I want you to introduce this.

SONIA KUMAR, STAFF ATTORNEY, ACLU OF MARYLAND: Yeah. So I asked Marc to allow me to just really publicly acknowledge the role that the family of Tyrone West has played in changing our conversation.

[APPLAUSE]

I really–I told this to Tawanda when we were standing outside in the rain. But I think as a civil rights lawyer nobody–I cannot think of anybody in the time that I’ve been in Baltimore that has done more to raise the issue. And part of the way you have done that is by not letting anybody forget your brother’s name, right? And you have been there over and over and over. And you have made all of us feel accountable. You made all of us feel that. And that is really significant. I just–there’s no substitute for that. Thank you.

STEINER: So–and let me pick up on that and turn Tawanda for a minute. Do you have the mic in your hand, Tawanda? Let me give that to you, because I want to just reiterate what Sonia was saying.

Tawanda has been on my program numerous, numerous times since her brother was killed. And I would just want to say that this is an example of what perseverance does. Tawanda has become a serious community leader nationally, internationally, and locally because of the work she’s done to bring justice for her family. And her family never stopped. They stood out every Wednesday demanding change. And in my book, in this last election, one of the reasons our state’s attorney lost was because of the anger and passion created by their movement. So I just want to say that.

And Tawanda, go ahead.

TAWANDA JONES, SISTER OF SLAIN TYRONE WEST: And I just want to say that, you know, people don’t realize the power that you have. And first, power comes from love.

STEINER: And introduce yourself.

BRITNEY PRICE, CONNEXIONS COMMUNITY HS: Hello. My name is Britney Price, and I am a junior at ConneXions Community Leadership Academy. (We change our name so many times.) But I would just like to say thank you for having me today.

Y’all talk–I’ve been listing to you all, and y’all have been talking a lot about the future and about the movement and things like that. But what you all failed to realize is the youth is our future. And y’all haven’t acknowledged the fact that y’all have to advocate our youth on certain things for y’all not to have this [similar (?)] problem going on in the future. And I feel like education holds a big–it’s, like, a big [incompr.] because not only in my school we have a class–it’s our English class–and we’ve been reading Mr. D. Watkins’ essays, and it kind of opened our eyes a lot about not only police brutality, but a lot of stuff going on in the world that we have not actually acknowledged. So it’s about–y’all talk about, like, stuff that can be done and stuff that should be done. And it’s the fact that I have two questions. It’s like, how do you educate the youth on the confusion we have to either trust the police or not trust the police? Because I can go up /m??d??m?’m?r/ today, and they will tell me that I have to go get on the bus right now. There’s no way in, there’s no I’m waiting for my sister, no. There’s no get on the bus right now. But then I go downtown, and I can just walk down there freely sometimes. Sometimes. One–.

STEINER: So I’m curious. I mean, when we hear what you’re saying, what do we think that prevents people in Baltimore from being a Ferguson, from being in the streets the same way or taking those kind of stands? We’re talking about youth, right? And then if you look at Ferguson, Ferguson is being driven by young people. They’re running that situation. As they say, it’s this is not your grandfather’s civil rights movement, it’s not my civil rights movement. It’s a new civil rights movement. So how is that happening?

[PRINCETON WATTS (?)]: And I think it’s more of something will happen to, I guess, the right person. They’re going to cause a uproar here soon, because the pattern I’m seeing, the police is very, very aggressive. I mean, I was labeled a felon, you know what I mean, and because of the things I’ve done in my past. And it’s like the police, when they in your neighborhood, especially, like, the Caucasian polices, you can see the racism, like, in their eyes sometimes. But you can feel it. And I really think that they need to have some kind of board whereas though, like, in a neighborhood, like, you should be able to, like, size the police up, I mean, do something to see, is this man racist, or make it mandatory that the police come from that community or come from Baltimore, because I’m telling you, man, these polices, some of them, I mean, you really can see the racism in them, I mean, how they talk to you, how they treat you. They just all just aggression and anger.

STEINER: So what you just said there, let me just pick up on this for just a minute. And I’m picking up this because we’re talking about civilian review boards, and I’d like to hear how maybe Toronto deals with that or how D.C. deals with that or how they’ve dealt with it in Cincinnati. But how do you deal with that? How do you deal, how do you deal with the overt racism that is practiced by some police officers in this community who have just complete disregard for black folks? And I’m going to it turn to Seema, and ’cause it–I’ll tell you a quick story on the way to Seema.

One of my former producers, who was white, was stopped on Maryland Avenue, and there were four black men near her. The police pulled up and started harassing the men around her and put them up against the wall. It had nothing to do with one another. She tried to intervene. They said, okay, little girl, we got it. And then, as they let these guys go, they started talking to her in the most racist terms about who they had just stopped and why they stopped them. So if you’re white, you hear that. And you know, if you are white, who–a person who fights racism, you know what that mean. So the question is: how do we deal with that? How does a civilian review board or anything else address that deep issue? Seema.

SEEMA SADANANDAN, POLICY DIRECTOR, ACLU D.C.: One of the demands that have been coming out of Ferguson is about having black police officers, having officers from the community. And I can say from the D.C. experience, black officers may be necessary, but it is not sufficient to bring about justice.

STEINER: Not at all.

SADANANDAN: In D.C., studies have shown–not just in D.C., but beyond–that an encounter between a black male and a black officer is not less likely to result in a rights violation or even an arrest. We’ve all been, in this country, rubbed up against this racist institution, and some of that, it has definitely rubbed off on the way people see things.

STEINER: Let’s go back here. The woman in the red.

SHAYNA BATEMAN, CASE WORKER, BALTIMORE RESIDENT: Hello, everyone. My name is Shayna Bateman. I am a case worker at the Youth Empower Society Drop-In Center for Homeless Youth.

Lieutenant Colonel Russell made a very valid point about police officers coming from that neighborhood. One of the things to consider is the self-worth that a police officer has when they’re policing the neighborhood that they come from.

STEINER: Let me just–there’s a question I really think is important, and we need to come back to that, cover all these comments we’re making: are we ready to organize in this community to make something happen? And how does that happen? And I–looking at Dayvon, because Dayvon and the other people from Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle did organize that kind of movement that helped stop the construction of the jail in his community. And they did that. So Dayvon.

DAYVON LOVE, DIRECTOR, RESEARCH AND PUBLIC POLICY, LBS: Well, I want to say two things. The first is that I think it’s really important we understand why we’re having this conversation right now, because I think sometimes it’s easy to mistake a convenient political conversation with genuine care about the conditions that happen, that are existing in our community. And so I think it’s really important that whenever we have this discussion, that it’s connected to specific things that we’re going to do in our communities and in the political arena, so that it doesn’t get absorbed into the political discourse and people play political football. So, for instance, like the video cameras legislation that’s in the City Council, honestly, that’s just political football, because none of the folks that were elected said anything when, at the time, Mayor O’Malley arrested 757,000 people in the City of Baltimore, right? So it’s important that we connect the things that we’re talking about to specific things that we’re going to do.

So, among those things, I think it’s important and that we’ve talked about the law enforcement bill of rights. I think that’s really important. I think, in terms of getting a civilian review board that has teeth, that’s really important. But what’s even more important is that the people of and from the community are those work that are in charge of administering and checking these institutions to make sure they’re accountable to the community, because what has happened is we have all these different apparatuses, these things that–government agencies, bureaucracies that are created for the purposes of addressing some of these things, but they’re not operated by people of or from the community. And so when we think about what the next steps are, it’s important that folks of and from the community operate these institutions so that we’re not relying on a governmental structure that has demonstrated its inability to effectively address our concerns.

STEINER: So just for the moment, this concludes the first part of this program. When we’re going to come back, we’re going to get more comments from our audience about where to go, how to construct a civilian review board, hear how we’re going to get to that place, how we’re going to organize this in this community, and focus on that issue, ’cause that what comes next. We have people here from the community who have real ideas about how to organize that and make that happen in Baltimore. We have members of the police department who want to see something like that happen in Baltimore. So let us conclude for this moment. We’ll come right back. Stay with us as we talk about how we organize and go around specific goals to make this happen in our community. We’ll be right back.

[APPLAUSE]

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