On August 21st, a group calling itself “We The Protesters”, which includes two prominent members of the loosely affiliated Black Lives Matter movement, Johnetta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson, released a series of comprehensive plans in the form of a web-site called Campaign Zero. It’s intended as a guide for dealing with the policing and social justice issues that they and other protesters have brought to the forefront over the last year.
The suggestions, if they were to be put into effect, would not only benefit the African American community that is so often victimized by authorities, but also to the poor of every ethnic group, who are those most harmed by things like unreasonable fines, civil asset forfeiture and no knock SWAT raids.
The site is well put together with separate sections for the ten main issues Campaign Zero is addressing including: ending “Broken Windows” policing, law enforcement de-militarization and limiting the use of force. It also offers examples of where the solutions offered have worked. For example, in the section titled “Stopping For Profit Policing” it cites Illinois law in calling for an end to ticket and/or arrest quotas being used as a measure of whether or not police are doing their jobs. This was a huge issue in Ferguson where the mainly African American residents were subject to what can only be called unfair forms of taxation at the hands of a mostly white police force.
The section on limiting the use of force, which will no doubt be among the most important to those protesting police violence, begins by noting that last year “police killed at least 268 unarmed people and 91 people who were stopped for mere traffic violations”. They then move on to specific policy solutions.
These solutions, while some are obvious on the surface, are well thought out and presented with links to existing legislation, as noted above. To begin with, the creators of the site want police at all levels to employ the International Deadly Force Standard. This only allows for the use of such force when an officer or another person’s life is in danger. They also ask that there be a report of such killings and other serious injuries as is already required under Colorado law.
The authors then go into more detail, calling for an end to such practices as using force against suspects for “talking back or as punishment for running away” and banning choke-holds like the one that resulted in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island last summer (this would need to be enforced of course, the NYPD has had a “no choke-hold” policy for awhile). Campaign Zero also calls for an to end high speed chases in cases of those “who have not and are not about to commit a violent felony.”
Even more relevant for those interested in what they can do to push these issues to the top of the agenda are the downloadable pdfs which break down the main policy ideas along local, state and federal lines. Of most relevance to those working in their own communities are the local recommendations.
For these, the writers offer local solutions for each of the ten main areas they have high-lighted. In the first category, ending broken windows policing, they demand that law enforcement “de-prioritize” enforcement of nuisance offenses like marijuana possession, loitering and spitting. This would also downplay police forces role as revenue generators for municipalities as called for by the section on ending for profit policing.
Even more importantly, they ask citizens to try to pass ordinances “banning racial profiling and creating enforceable protections against it”, as well as taking “action to establish teams that include mental health professionals as primary responders or co-responders to crisis situations”. Considering that roughly half of all police related deaths are mentally ill people, moving this proposal forward should be a priority for us all
Some of the other ideas presented for local action from the various categories are things that many commentators have called for, including prohibitions against using either municipal or federal funds to purchase military equipment, as has gone on for years under the Federal 1033 program, passing local ordinances to create civilian review boards with “the power to investigate police misconduct, subpoena and discipline police officers” and under, the heading of “Fair Police Union Contracts”, there is the logical argument that contracts that delay interrogations of officers after use of force incidents should be abolished.
Allowing officers to “get their stories straight” is as a matter of routine points to the fact that there is one law for citizens and another for law enforcement. That this inevitably leads to law enforcement pushing the envelope ever further has become obvious over the years, especially to minority communities who have borne the brunt of increasing authoritarianism on the part of law enforcement.
The State and Federal proposals are presented along similar lines, but will likely require more effort and probably strategic voting on the part of those looking to see them enacted. Voters will also have to demand that candidates are clear on their positions on these issues with a Presidential election on the horizon. Black Lives Matter has been quite effective so far at getting candidates to address these issues, at least on the Democratic side.
As for those white progressives who have been upset or confused by BLM protesters’ attempts to bring these issues to the forefront by interrupting political rallies, they need to remember that Democrats have been taking black voters for granted for generations, even when their policies do harm to their communities (Bill Clinton’s criminal law “reforms” leap to mind). It’s time to put up or shut up and every Democratic candidate is going to have to address these problems through policy papers and on the campaign trail.
As 2016 approaches there is a justified fear that police reform will be downplayed in the sporting event atmosphere that seems to surround these things, especially with Republican candidates pushing ideas that would have been the subject of general ridicule a decade ago. “We the Protesters” should be lauded for keeping these issues in the spotlight and offering real solutions.