Civil Rights Coalition on Police Reform Provides In-Depth Discussion During a Two-Part Panel
The Civil Rights Coalition on Police Reform, convened by the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), held a comprehensive town hall last week. The event provided panelists and attendees with an opportunity for open dialogue regarding past, present and future challenges of police reform and necessary solutions to address the ongoing killings and brutality of African Americans and other minorities by police officers nationwide.
The diverse group of panelists, including national and civil rights leaders, activists, and others, examined police brutality against people with physical and mental disabilities, Native Americans, the LGBT community and along with other groups, while elucidating universal police reform. The two-part panel discussions, hosted by the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law, yielded approximately 100 attendees.
The first panel discussed the landscape of ongoing brutalities by police and solutions. Speakers included Dwayne Crawford, executive director of the National Organizations of Black Law Enforcement; Ron Davis, director, United States Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and executive director, White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing; Jonathan Smith, associate dean and professor, the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, and former chief of special litigation section of the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice; Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner and activist; Simon Moya-Smith, journalist and Native American activist; Janaye Ingram, national executive director, National Action Network; and Andrea Ritchie, Soros Justice Fellow. Ryan J. Reilly, justice reporter, Huffington Post, served as moderator.
Simon Moya-Smith provided a chilling look into how Native Americans are statically more likely to die at the hands of the police than any other group. He pointed out, “Native Americans are so canceled out of the conversation that people are surprised we still exist.” Jonathan Smith spoke about debtors’ prisons and efforts to work with those most affected — low-income and minority communities. “How a simple traffic ticket can destroy lives! Loss of job, home, children and no way to return to that life.”
Ron Davis posed the question, “We have the attention of the country. What are we going to do now?” Davis also reflected upon the conversation he and his wife had with their son as a new driver about what to do if pulled over by a police officer.
Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by NYPD officers, spoke on behalf of the families of those brutalized or killed by police officers. Toward the end of the panel, she noted to Ron Davis that her family is still looking for answers. “We are tired of waiting,” she said
The second group of panelists discussed steps for moving forward and solutions for combatting police brutality, including comprehensive police reform. Benjamin Crump, partner, Parks and Crump Attorneys at Law, president of the National Bar Association, and family attorney for Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown; Ryan J. Reilly, justice reporter, Huffington Post, Barbara Arnwine, founder and president Transformative Justice Coalition; Luis Estrella, activist and survivor of NYPD police brutality; Rev. Aundreia Alexander, associate general secretary for justice and peace, National Council of Churches of Christ, USA; James Gilmore, public policy analyst, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Dara Baldwin, senior public policy analyst, National Disabilities Rights Network served as panelists with Janaye Ingram, national executive director, National Action Network as moderator.
At the beginning of the second panel, Barbara Arnwine looked to Erica Garner and stated, “It’s our obligation to get an answer to your question. Count on us (Civil Rights Coalition on Police Reform) to keep fighting for you.”
James Gilmore talked about the importance of voting and how there is a lack of diversity on the police forces policing African American and minority neighborhoods, “We have an issue of diversity and a disproportionate rate of white officers that are policing our communities.” Gilmore also spoke about implicit bias and the need for diversity training.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney who is well-known for representing victims and their families, including sexual assault survivors of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who was recently found guilty, underscored the importance of how one person has the ability to make a difference. “We all have the capacity to do something. We all have to do our part. The young people on the frontlines…We all have to challenge ourselves and think, ‘What can we do?,” said Crump. He also spoke about the important role social media is helping to make a change, using the Howard University student who started a Change.org petition for Trayvon Martin and received more than three million signatures and the University of Missouri student who went on a hunger strike. “So don’t tell me one person can’t make a change. The young man at Missouri who went on a hunger strike. It sent shockwaves through America. How his efforts inspired the football team, when the young black athletes said, ‘We’re going to take a stand with our other brothers.’”
Luis Estrella stated, “I wouldn’t say that I’m a victim, I’m a survivor of police brutality.” He also noted that people are told if you see something, say something, “but our voices are never heard.”
In August 2014, the coalition released a resource packet outlining the Coalition’s recommendations on police reform, which included:
The required use of police officer Body-Worn Cameras (BWC) to record every police-civilian encounter in accordance with and policy requiring civilian notification and applicable laws, including during SWAT deployments, along with rigorous standards regarding the retention, use, access, and disclosure of data captured by such systems;
The universal use of dash cameras in police cars;
The elimination of the “broken windows” policing policy initiated in the 1980’s which encourages overly aggressive police encounters for minor offenses and the promotion of community-based policing;
A comprehensive federal review and reporting of all police killings, accompanied by immediate action to address the unjustified use of lethal and excessive force by police officers in jurisdictions throughout this country against unarmed people of color.
In 2016, the coalition will release a report reviewing all open consent decrees to assess compliance and progress and to empower communities nationwide to use the data to effect more change, including accountability. A comprehensive list of open consent decrees and police department investigations can be found here: http://www.justice.gov/crt/special-litigation-section-cases-and-matters0#police.
For more information on resources to combat police brutality such as the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) mobile app “Mobile Justice”, which provides bystanders or victims the ability to record police misconduct, and “Know Your Rights” guide, please visit: www.civilrightscpr.org.