Americans are waking up to the reality that racism is far from dead. Recent events in Georgia, Kentucky, and Minnesota have left communities grieving. The unjust shooting of Ahmaud Arbery at the hand of white vigilantes has shone light on ties between violent white supremacists and the American justice system, as the case against Mr. Arbery’s killers had to pass through three different district attorney’s desks before it could successfully be prosecuted without presenting a conflict of interest. Of equal concern is the more recent police killing in Minnesota of George Floyd.
The firing of the four officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death is commendable, yet a simultaneous outrage exists still over countless previous incidents — Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille, to name only four — where African Americans have been murdered by police officers, often white police officers, who have seen no justice, kept their jobs, and in some cases have enjoyed paid leave while an internal investigation leads to their inevitable exoneration. Further, in this era of citizen journalism, clear and present instances of cold-blooded murder must be treated as such. Police officers who wrongly kill are not above the law, and must be held accountable for their actions.
Police oversight is an absolute must if we are to have a society where trust can exist between citizens and those sworn to protect them. It is crucial to emphasize the philosophy that police should protect the people, not the whims or property of the state, above all else. This should guide a more humanitarian approach to police intervention in all instances, but especially in their interactions with communities of color, the homeless, and people with mental illness.
If elected, I will draft legislation creating a nationwide system of civilian-run police oversight review boards, administered by the Department of Justice. They would be run by members of the community, including attorneys, educators, parents, social workers, mental healthcare workers, and students. These boards would investigate, without persuasion or influence from law enforcement or the unions that represent them, anytime an officer discharges their weapon, regardless of the outcome, or anytime they have to physically engage with a suspect. They would have the power to suspend, fire, and file criminal charges as necessary against the subjects of their investigation. These boards would review testimony and all recordings, including bodycam footage, to be provided unedited by the law enforcement agency under investigation. In the event of a technical error or accidental erasure of bodycam footage that interferes with the board’s ability to investigate the incident, an additional investigation of evidence tampering will be made.
Communities stricken by grief deserve answers. The establishment of nationwide, locally run, civilian police oversight review boards will help ensure justice is served against officers who abuse their authority.