Thanks to Ijeoma Oluo — who shouldn’t have had to be tweeting out step-by-step instructions through her grief and fear, but who did — yesterday I took more action toward police accountability in my community than ever before.
Thanks to Ijeoma Oluo (writer, editor of The Establishment, pitch-educator, and solid-gold Twitter star), yesterday I searched for information about police accountability and citizen oversight in my city.
Thanks to Ijeoma Oluo, when I found no satisfactory answers, I followed her suggestions (click through to read the whole thread; it’s very instructive) to craft a letter to my mayor and city council members asking for more information and emphasizing the importance — to voters and to community safety — of transparency and communication. If you do the same, maybe my letter will serve as a useful template:
As a concerned resident and voter in ______ , I’m wondering what measures are in place to ensure police accountability for our community’s safety.Does the ______ Police Department have any provisions for citizen oversight? Do they call in a citizen panel to review allegations of misconduct or police shootings? What is the threshold for indicting an officer for misconduct, or otherwise instigating an investigation into a questionable arrest or encounter?
How are indictments and other questionable encounters investigated? How is evidence of officers’ behavior obtained? Do our police wear body cameras? If so, how many of them and how routinely? How often is the footage reviewed and how is it archived? Is there a waiting period, as in the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge, before officers who shoot civilians are required to be questioned?
Police accountability is good for civilians and for police. It’s good for justice, and what’s good for justice is good for our community and our country. No elected official is doing their job unless they’re fighting for accountability. Please tell me you are.
Their responses pointed me toward our local police department’s citizen review subcommittee, and the eligibility requirements are troubling: Anyone who has ever been arrested or filed a complaint against a member of the police department or who has an immediate family member who has may be summarily disqualified. Intentionally or otherwise, that restriction ensures that those most vulnerable to the system’s ills have no official voice in challenging that system.
Eventually, one of my city council members confirmed that the citizen review subcommittee’s monthly meetings are open to the public. Thanks to Ijeoma Oluo, who made every step of this process so easy, I have now set up a public Facebook event publicizing the time and place of these meetings in our city, and several people have expressed interest, decided to attend, and invited friends.
Thanks to Ijeoma Oluo, yesterday I wrote my representatives in local government, learned about a committee designed to increase transparency, told others about it, and made plans to attend. Thanks to Ijeoma Oluo, I know that even the committee designed to increase civilian oversight is (accidentally or otherwise) skewed to exclude those who most need its protection. Thanks to Ijeoma Oluo, I see how privilege shapes the system even at the local level, and I see a space where maybe, just maybe, I can use the privilege this system allots to me to amplify the voices and concerns of those it excludes.
That was yesterday. Today, I went to Ijeoma Oluo’s Patreon and contributed — modestly, but what I can afford. She made it possible for me to make a difference, however small it may be, and that is invaluable.
[updated July 9th, 2016: I’m also making it clear on all my local postings that I have no affiliation with the police or political system or ownership over this issue. Because Facebook’s interface automatically assigns a page’s creator as its “host,” even for a public event, I’ve pinned a post clarifying that I have no official standing, that I’m just a concerned resident, and that I’d be glad to transfer that “host” position to a community organizer or activist better suited to lead.