Robust civilian oversight of police departments, if a taxpayer or taxpayers so chooses to request one of its government, shouldn’t be hindered by a politician’s (or politicians’) insubordination, if for no other reason than because the Declaration of Independence, one of four documents that represent America’s Organic Law and which can be found in Volume One of the United States Code, makes clear that the government – sometimes populated by individuals who perceive themselves as both above the law and mightier than the whose wages are garnished to contribute to their high earnings – derives its power from the consent of the governed.
In short, the laymen, not the politician, are the powers that be. The current Mayor of Philadelphia said as much when he was Mayor-Elect: “The citizens are in control of the cops, not the cops in control of the citizens.”
According to the law, Mr. Jim Kenney, who was sworn in as the City’s 99th Mayor on January 4th 2016, is correct; however, the real mechanics of American politics, which are guided more by the placation of unions and the elite rather than the satisfaction of the majority, prove Mr. Kenney’s sentiment is, at best, mere wishful thinking and, at worse, disingenuous: strengthening civilian oversight is within Mr. Kenney’s purview but it hasn’t yet morphed into a priority.
Establishing and/or increasing funding and support for civilian oversight of police is, however, a priority for a sizable number of Americans, particularly younger Black and Brown ones who are, in one way or another, affiliated with Black Lives Matter. Resistance to prioritize support, funding and independence for civilian oversight of police by government officials may be due the fact that it’s framed largely as a polarizing social justice issue.
This past Saturday, June 16th, in Baltimore, responding to the lack of indictments for the officers involved in the controversial arrest of the late Mr. Freddie Gray – a 25 year-old Black man who died April 19th, 2015, from an injury sustained while in police custody – more than 60 protesters were arrested after blocking a highway to demand of their government the erection of a civilian review board for police investigations.
A week and half following Mr. Gray’s 2015 death, the Mayor of Newark, citing recent cases of black men victimized by police violence, signed an executive order establishing the City’s first citizen complaint review board.
In contrast, the Mayor of Philadelphia – who in April 2015 was Mr. Michael A. Nutter, the third Black man to have ever held that office and who in 1992, when Newark, New Jersey, was only considering proposals to include citizens in the monitoring of police behavior, was the main sponsor of two bills that would establish, according to the Baltimore Sun, “a police civilian review board before the end of the year” – was digesting recommendations from the Department of Justice, which found, during their assessment of deadly force by the police officers here, that the police department wasn’t fully or in earnest cooperating with the Police Advisory Commission, which was established in 1994 as a result of Mr. Nutter’s aforementioned bills (a Police Review Board was established by executive order in 1958 by then Philadelphia Mayor J. Richardson Dilworth but a city judge in 1967 ruled that the Mayor’s action was illegal and the Supreme Court reversed the decision).
Following the 2014 fatal officer-involved shooting of a Ferguson, Missouri Black teenager named Mr. Michael Brown, Philadelphia City Councilman Mr. Curtis Jones, Jr., introduced a plan to, according to CBS-3, make the twenty-year-old Police Advisory Commission a permanent panel, with better funding and more staffing.
Mr. Jones’ plan was first introduced in 2012, but the unrest following Ferguson motivated him to revive it. Mr. Jones, who chairs the Committee of Public Safety, told then CBS-3’s Mr. Mike Dunn, who now works for Mayor Kenney in his Communications Department, that “I would be disingenuous if I didn’t look to Ferguson as a cautionary tale: people who don’t believe in a process, people who feel that no matter what they say, it goes unheard. And we cannot have that in Philly.”
My sources say the bill championed by Mr. Jones died in committee, which isn’t surprising when you consider the City’s governing body rarely, if ever, condemns police misconduct. Mr. Kelvyn Anderson, who currently serves as the Executive Director of the Police Advisory Commission, has often detailed to me how destitute his agency is.
Even though Mr. Anderson, as a result of the DOJ’s intervening, now has a vote on the Firearms Review Board; has jurisdiction at scenes of officer-involved shootings and is gaining access to critical policing data – the PAC will soon receive in bulk from the City detailed information on the many stops-and-frisks that occur every year in Philadelphia – only one additional staff person was added in 2016 and no additional funds, despite Mayor Kenney’s claim to want to see the agency’s budget increase to $1.5 million over the next three years, were allocated. In essence, Mr. Anderson was given more responsibility, and the expectation of his agency increased, yet he received little-to-no municipal consideration.
In Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other American cities facing similar circumstances regarding civilian oversight, a grand moment exists to talk differently about this subject. Instead of the usual narrative of the trust deficit between police and citizens, how about we, the people, use the current tension try to emphasize how strengthening civilian oversight can create jobs in neighborhoods.
For example, the data set soon to be delivered to the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission shows exactly what blocks in the City the most pedestrian stops are occurring, which could inform grassroots Cop-Watch initiatives and mitigate illegal stops. Now, imagine if activities like Cop-Watch, which are usually volunteer-driven, became a federally and/or locally funded effort – upfront cost for a program of this scale could be acquired via a stimulus package or Social Impact Bonds and later through taxes and reallocated funds when citizens realize how independent civilian oversight and rigorous Cop-Watches can ease tensions (which could reduce protest and monies paid out for police overtime), rebuild trust and decrease the probability of police brutality which in turn lowers the frequency of cash settlements paid out by government to victims – carried about by independent civilian oversight agencies across America.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs could be created per city… and that’s just with a cop-watch program. Other innovations in this space could manifest, but we have to first frame the subject matter in a way that exploits its link to America’s economic development and then demand it be given the attention and debate it deserves.
What would be the incentive of the lawmakers to give into such a demand? If such a question has to be asked, that alone proves that America’s citizens understands their government to, more often than not, rule rather than represent.
And if such a troublesome insubordination exists and persist, the Declaration of Independence offers a tip: whenever Government no longer represents the interest of its people and has become destructive, it’s the Right of the People to alter or to abolish the government and “institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.”
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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Photo courtesy of the author.