People for the American Way Presents New Plan for Police and Law Enforcement
As millions of people across American celebrated “liberty and justice for all” on July 4th, yet another news story of a police shooting of an unarmed Black man was breaking nationally.
The killing of fleeing Jayland Walker, 25, by Akron, Ohio police officers, who reportedly shot him 60 times, is still under investigation, while the officers involved have been suspended pending the results.
Police say the shooting occurred after a high-speed chase, during which they say a shot came from the vehicle driven by Walker, a report that Walker’s family and lawyer has called into question. Police also said they found a gun in the car. They claim he appeared to be reaching for his waistband as he fled.
But why he suffered 60 wounds in the June 27 killing is still in question.
Police Chief Stephen Mylett said at a July 3rd news conference that reviews of body camera videos of 13 officers at the scene prompted more questions about Walker’s death. As the video was released, protesters, led by the Akron NAACP, took to the streets, a familiar site in modern day America.
Akron police said they had tried to pull Walker over on a traffic violation and began the chase after he did not stop.
Meanwhile, justice-seeking organizations continue to present ideas on ways to prevent unjust police shootings, disparate of unarmed African Americans. The continued scourge of police violence against African Americans is one of the most contentious issues in the nation.
According to statistics provided by People for the American Way (PFAW), in 2021 alone, police officers killed at least 1,134 people, with African Americans making up at least 23 percent of those killed, despite being only 13 percent of the U.S. population.
Racism is at the core of policing in this country, from colonial-era slave patrols to the post-Reconstruction vigilantism of the Ku Klux Klan to “order maintenance” policing of the late 20th century, Ben Jealous and his research colleague Dr. Niaz Kasravi contend.
In the aftermath of national and global protests following the murder of George Floyd by a quartet of Minneapolis police officers in 2020, Jealous said PFAW partnered with Covington & Burling LLP, and the Avalan Institute for Applied Research, and consulted closely with law enforcement and policing experts, social justice activists, elected officials, community leaders produce a blueprint for reducing police violence titled, “All Safe: Transforming Public Safety.”
“We are very proud to unveil All Safe: Transforming Public Safety as a guide for local communities to take solutions to our public safety crisis into their own hands. Let’s face it: the federal government has failed to act on meaningful public safety legislation,” Jealous, president of People For the American Way and former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in an exclusive press briefing for African American journalists. “Meanwhile Black and brown people are dying at the hands of police officers. This has to stop. We can seed true, nationwide change by putting the right tools into the hands of communities now and building on their success, to create an unstoppable movement for public safety transformation.”
Kasravi – founder and director of the Avalan Institute and editor-in- chief of All Safe – said the report provides concrete policy proposals for the transformation and implementation of public safety programs at the local level.
“We know that this. We know that it’s time for a change because the tradition approach just hasn’t worked. Right? For centuries, this country has relied on “tough on crime,” over-policing, and law and order policies,” Kasravi explained. “And more moderate reforms around training and recruitment, of course are necessary and needed, but they are not the answer, the foundational answer to a long-term change that we need. We are in America, the #1 incarcerator in the world with roughly five percent of the world’s population but we have 25% of its prisoners because of centuries on overreliance on police and systems of incarceration …”
Jealous, echoed Kasravi’s comments that described the report as “the most comprehensive vision for transformation of public safety in our country.”
He credited Ithaca, New York’s three-term Mayor Svante Myrick with embracing the report’s provisions and implementing many of the proposals on the ground and in real life.
“We have to build the criminal reform movement from the bottom up,” said Jealous, a trained criminologist who grew up in a family in law enforcement.
He described the challenge of achieving meaningful change with America’s mélange of police departments – 16,000 local individualized police departments – each agency with its own rules and regulations.
“I figured out when I was at the NAACP that about 85 percent of African Americans live in 500 of these jurisdictions which means when it comes to saving Black lives, we really have to reform 3-5 percent of law enforcement agencies in the US,” Jealous said.
Among the report’s proposals is changing police departments to public safety departments led by civilians with half the department comprised of typically armed officer and the other half made up of unarmed officers who are social work experts catering to the needs of the drug-addicted, homeless, and mentally ill.
“We don’t train these folks because that’s not what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Jealous, referring to police officers ill-equipped to handle non-crime issues. “It’s shoot to kill and everything else. It would mean 60 percent of the officers we have now, radically less numbers carrying guns.”
“This report is the most comprehensive report that we’ve been involved with or seen produced. It’s a handbook for elected officials with a large range of policy options to respond to the public demand from police reform,” said Kasravi. “There are two co-equal teams of armed and unarmed individuals. The public safety model is a win on all fronts: it reduces the risk of harm and armed encounters; people are treated more humanely; this addresses medical and psychological needs; puts less stress on officers; and increased trust in the community.”
Kasravi said the model also saves communities more money and increases efficiency and effectiveness as communities move towards “the vision we all want.”
“It’s a local fight in every jurisdiction, a fight police must take up. No size fits all. There are different models and ways to respond,” Kasravi said.
The report presents facts and statistics which illustrate the current states of affairs and the challenges of effecting police reform:
- Police violence disproportionately affects communities of color. In 2021, while Black people accounted for only 13 percent of the US population, 28 percent of people killed by the police were Black. Another 19 percent were Latinx.
- Of the estimated 240 million calls made to 911 each year, studies have found that 90 percent of calls involve situations that are nonviolent before police are called.
- Police unions have erected barriers to prevent removal for those officers accused of misconduct. At the state level, unions have passed police officer “bills of rights,” which provide broad protections for officers which are not provided to other people in similar situations.
In addition, the report’s researchers showed that over-policing is encouraged as police brass demand that officers meet quotas which is one evaluation tool. And also that police recruitment strategies attract aggressive men and women.
“A comprehensive study analyzing the recruiting materials used by the 200 largest police departments in the United States found that: 42.7 percent contained some display of drawn firearms; 34 percent portrayed military-style weapons; 32 percent showed officers in tactical vests; and 27.7 percent depicted paramilitary policing units,” the report said.
Key tenets of the report are to remove police officers from schools; eliminate unnecessary misdemeanors and fines and fees; and ending the use of “excess” military equipment by law enforcement.
Jealous said PFAW focused on small college towns, like Ithaca, New York, where supporters and those connected to or affiliated with PFAW coalesced around the police reform policy proposals. The bedrock of the report is to restructure, hold responsible, remove, and recruit as a means of change, all the while addressing “the underlying issues and concerns that shape the organization’s public safety programs and make specific suggestions for transforming both how we think of public safety and our public safety programs.”
Their focus, Kasravi and Jealous said, has been at the local level because they contend that while a system overhaul will only come when state and federal officials move on it, “at the local level, executive, legislative, and judicial authorities can take steps immediately to reduce police violence.”
But as it has in the past, the post-Floyd effort to secure meaningful reform fizzled because of the lack of political will, raw, hyper-partisan politics and an unwillingness of national politicians to accede to the real demands of African Americans. Yet Jealous and Kasravi argue that even in the face of these and other challenges, it is imperative for the Black and brown communities most affected to devise new ways to confront, address and change the status quo as it relates to policing in America.
“It’s time for a fresh approach to the delivery of public safety in this country, because the hard truth is that what we have been doing hasn’t worked,” Kasravi said. “We have some of the most highly armed police forces and the greatest rates of incarceration in the world. If those strategies worked, we should be the safest nation in the world. But we all know that’s not the case. It’s time to transform our approach, and this report offers a range of options for communities to do that – and to improve and save lives, starting now.”
The release of the report coincides with People For the American Way kicking off it’s “Big Ideas” Summit in Atlanta this week. Civil Rights leaders, grassroots activists, elected officials, and faith leaders will gather from around the U.S. and mayors and other local officials have the option of taking All Safe recommendations back to their own communities to implement them.