City Leaders and Local Advocates Discuss Police Reform
People’s Justice Project leaders and city council members are talking out the demands made by PJP protestors at last Monday’s council meeting. The group, a statewide collective of advocates working to end mass incarceration of people of color, has a couple main goals meant to address systemic lapses in racially equitable criminal justice.
First, individual city budgets (specifically Columbus) are called to repurpose funds that go primarily to policing and put them toward rehabilitation, treatment and violence prevention programs for the community. While a reevaluation of police training is also necessary, PJP Leader Hana Abdur Rahim said the main focus is moving city money away from programs that police low-income communities and toward ones that benefit them.
That means tackling the Summer Safety Initiative, “which is the Summer Strike Force,” Rahim said. “We want the funds reinvested into the community because the current policing strategies going on in our communities are not productive and they don’t work.”
Rahim criticized the program for racially profiling and blamed it for the death of 23-year-old Henry Green, who was shot by plainclothes cops in Linden this June. Michael McGovern, Deputy Communications Director for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, suggested that the tactics used by the officer who shot Green — “plainclothes police officers in unmarked cars going around, jumping out at people in neighborhoods where already safety is an issue” — do more harm than good.
City Council President Zach Klein said it’s important to recognize the successes of the initiative along with the flaws. While he’s open to reevaluating the program, he said its elimination isn’t the answer when data show the spike that happens in crime rates as the weather heats up.
“How can we take that statistic, knowing that the Department of Justice has indicated there’s higher violence that occurs during summer months than any other months, to improve a community policing model that can decrease violence, make our streets safer, but improve police-community interaction?” Klein asked.
Mayor Andy Ginther will submit a 2017 budget proposal to the council in early November, after which council will hold community meetings to gain input on where funds should be moved “so we can have a budget that truly reflects the wills and desires of our community.”
The other side of what McGovern calls a two-pronged issue is the lack of accountability police departments have to the communities they patrol. One way to address the accountability issue, McGovern said, is to allow an independent investigation. PJP leaders promptly submitted a letter similar to the one received by city council, outlining their demands, to County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien.
“He has basically refused to come out,” Rahim said. “He keeps saying we’re going to do the same thing we always do. We’re gonna have a grand jury. That’s what people are coming up against in Columbus and across the country. People are preaching patience and due process for a process that’s set up for Tyre King’s family and Henry Green’s family to get no justice.”
Klein said the process of getting an independent investigation is tricky. At this point in time there doesn’t exist an entity with the personnel, resources and training to investigate every police-involved shooting across the state and country.
“It’s easy to say ‘Yes, I want an independent investigation,’” Klein said. “It’s not easy to then figure out who’s going to do that.”
PJP is not budging on their demand for a third-party investigation. McGovern said they gave O’Brien one week to act, and he promises more public protests and potential attacks toward O’Brien’s campaign for County Prosecutor. He’ll face Klein in November.
“I think there’s an argument to be made that continued protest and pressure — and us making sure that he knows that we’re not happy with his record, and us letting people know what his record is — I think could have an impact and perhaps sway him given he’s on the ballot this fall,” McGovern said.
Klein said O’Brien’s actions as the issue has unfolded demonstrate a lack of experience with community engagement.
“A lot of times, the conversation is just about police and community, but the reality is about a community’s interaction with the justice system,” Klein said. “That includes police, prosecutors and judges, and in the 21st century it’s not strictly about the courtroom. It’s about leadership; it’s about community participation; it’s about an office that is engaged in the community.”
O’Brien was unavailable for comment.