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In what has been described as further encroachment on D.C.’s home rule, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability recently conducted a hearing focused on city management and crime.
The March 29 hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building followed Rep. Andrew Clyde’s (R-Georgia) introduction of a resolution striking down local police accountability measures and the passage of another resolution that he introduced to nullify the passage of the Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA).
In the hours leading to the hearing, members of the #HandsOffDC coalition took to the streets on Wednesday morning and affirmed their commitment to protecting District Home Rule and advancing the ongoing movement for D.C. statehood.
After the group marched along Pennsylvania Avenue and past the Cannon House Office Building, they gathered on the front steps of Rayburn House Office Building where Makia Green, a #HandsOffDC member and core organizer with Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, called the congressional hearing an overt attempt to disenfranchise Black District residents.
“We have just marched to let folks know, from D.C., to the capital city to the federal city, that we are D.C. and we are entering into this building with a hearing where folks who don’t vote, eat or live here and don’t know you and our community and don’t keep us safe, are trying to meddle in our affairs,” Green said. “This isn’t about safety. It’s about right-wing extremism vying for power in Black-led cities.”
#HandsOffDC coalition members spent much of Wednesday listening to the hearing or standing outside the Elijah Cummings Room of the Rayburn House Office Building patiently waiting to speak to congressmen and women walking through the halls.
The Issue at Hand: Police Accountability
Last year, the D.C. Council unanimously approved the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act, which codified the District’s use of the force review board, enhanced police auditing capabilities, strengthened training requirements, and prohibited the hiring of officers who had a history of misconduct.
The legislation also enhanced the police chief’s ability to fire offices who engaged in misconduct or committed serious offenses. The aforementioned measures were initially instituted on an emergency basis in the aftermath of anti-police brutality protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder.
After the D.C. Police Union’s previous attempts to strike down the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act, the entity took its qualms to Congress, saying that the legislation laid the foundation for the crime currently gripping the District.
While speaking as a witness before the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Accountability, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said the police union’s opposition to the legislation centered on a particular provision it spent months targeting.
“[T]heir primary concern [is] that the law prohibits their ability to bargain the disciplinary process for bad cops,” Mendelson said as he explained the inspiration behind the police accountability measure. “They couch their opposition more broadly but it’s the provision they took to court and lost, and then pressured me to water down or repeal. Our decision to include this prohibition is based on research which shows that police-negotiated discipline is bad for public safety, accountability and oversight.”
Looking Back at the Congressional Hearing
Others who were scheduled to speak before the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability were D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), D.C. Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee, and Police Union Chairman Gregg Pemberton.
D.C. Council members Kenyan McDuffie (I-At large) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8), who were invited as witnesses, didn’t attend. On May 16, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) is scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.
Throughout much of the hearing, statehood and crime stood out as topics of discussion.
When it came to statehood, a question among GOP committee members, particularly Rep. William Timmons (R-S.C.-4th Dist.), centered on why Democrats didn’t secure D.C. statehood when they had the majority in both chambers.
In her comments, committee member D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) echoed the sentiments of #HandsOffDC activists when she designated D.C. statehood as a worthy cause.
Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) called congressional Interference in District affairs a matter of choice that Republicans exercise at a whim rather than out of genuine concern for District affairs. Later, as she spoke about the need for police accountability, Brown alluded to the 2015 death of Alonzo Smith at the hands of special police officers at Marbury Plaza on Good Hope Road and the violence District police officers inflicted on protestors during the 2020 uprising.
Meanwhile, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.-11th Dist.) questioned the need for a hearing about District affairs when other jurisdictions, particularly those controlled by Republicans, experienced similar or more extreme quality-of-life issues. Connolly later questioned Pemberton’s commitment to ensuring local governments can exert their sovereignty.
Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Florida.) would later reveal his intentions to pull crime data for Wyoming, Mississippi and other states experiencing high incidents of crime.
In regard to the RCCA, Rep. James Comer criticized Mendelson’s attempt to withdraw the legislation during the congressional review process. Other Republican committee members expressed their disgust about carjackings and murders in the District, particularly as it relates to the welfare of staffers living in the Capitol Hill area.
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado) grilled Lee about cuts to the police budget in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
Allen, former chair of the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, caught flack for Twitter comments he made in 2020 about reduction in the local police budget. In his testimony, he said that several U.S. cities are facing public safety issues similar to the District. The Ward 6 council member went on to note that federal control of the District court system complicated efforts to prosecute offenders.
In his testimony, Allen also reiterated his stance on combining policing with investments in services that improve District residents’ quality of life. He wrapped up with a clear message for congressional Republicans.
“Don’t overturn critical legislation passed by the District’s duly-elected representatives,” Allen said.
“The Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act improves trust in law enforcement, which in turn, improves public safety. This is a commonsense bill. It prevents MPD from hiring officers who committed serious misconduct in other jurisdictions, requires de-escalation training for officers to protect themselves and others, grows the Cadet Academy, and gives the Chief of Police the authority he needs to discipline for misconduct,” Allen added.
“He shouldn’t have to rehire officers he fired for sustained misconduct like child abuse, domestic violence, or sexual assault – at great expense to D.C. taxpayers.”
One Man Reflects on Statehood’s Impact
Those who poured into the Rayburn House Office Building included former D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute director Ed Lazere, onetime D.C. attorney general candidate Bruce Spiva, Kelsye Adams, DC Vote’s director of programming, ANC Commissioners Jamila White (8A05) and the Rev. Wendy Hamilton (8D06), and Samantha Davis of the Black Swan Academy.
Eyone Williams, an award-winning author and anti-violence advocate, also counted among the dozens upon dozens who watched the congressional hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building. He said that, as a returning citizen, he too has a stake in the statehood movement.
While Wiliams was incarcerated during the 1990s, congressional Republicans closed Lorton Correctional Institute and shipped him and several others to federal facilities across the United States. While in the federal prison system, Williams recounted seeing firsthand how outsiders determined the fates of District residents.
Though Wednesday’s congressional hearing somewhat dimmed his faith in statehood becoming a reality, Williams said he still supports the movement, as it would bring his comrades still serving time closer to their families.
“The U.S. Constitution says that Congress shall have jurisdiction over the district,” Williams said. “These lawmakers are hypocritical about D.C. when things are worse in their states. It’s in their best interest for D.C. to not be a state. It gives Democrats more power, [which] gives [Republicans] more reasons to nitpick.”