Op-EdOpinion

LAMBERT: From Protest to Action — Imagining Policing in the D.C. Metropolitan Area

For 82 years, the Greater Washington Urban League, a historic civil rights organization and affiliate of the 110-year-old National Urban League, has been providing vital services and fighting for Blacks in the Washington metropolitan area since 1938. We are proud to continue to be serving, fighting for and giving voice to families and individuals.

The events of the past several months have revived demands for action on systemic racism and police reform, igniting a renewed passion for change. The convergence of two pivotal events, the coronavirus pandemic and the senseless murder of George Floyd, has led us to this seminal moment. The protests have heightened awareness of police brutality, while the pandemic has illuminated health, social and economic disparities in Black communities.

We applaud the initial responses by local political leaders. In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser’s steadfast resistance to the president’s blatant disregard for peaceful protests, in creating the Black Lives Matter Plaza, sparked similar expressions on streets across America. The D.C. Council adoption of the Police Reform Commission is a significant step in addressing public safety and building stronger communities. The mayor’s recommendation allocating $1.3 million for violence interruption and the city’s Employment Pathways program and the July 18 town hall on policing, are hopefully the beginning of many recommendations and community-wide conversations on reimagining policing.

The League also serves Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland and thus supports efforts throughout the region. We urge the State to enact such reforms as Anton’s Law, proposed by Montgomery Del. Gabriel Acevero, to reform the Maryland Public Information Act to enable the sharing of pertinent police officer personnel file information to promote greater transparency.

In Montgomery County, we support the establishment of an independent entity to investigate officer-involved deaths, taking this responsibility from police to investigate themselves through an independent federal, state, or local entity to conduct these investigations. The Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act introduced by County Councilman William Jawando is to become effective sometime this year.

The Montgomery County Council recently enacted legislation limiting excessive use of force by police. The bill not only holds policeman who use excessive force accountable but it also requires officers to intervene whenever they witness a colleague violating the policy.

In Prince George’s County, we concur with County Executive Angela Alsobrooks’ assertion that “calls for social justice and greater accountability … create a moment where change is possible.” Alsobrooks has proposed shifting $20 million from the police budget to address mental health and addiction issues and the opportunity to fill the vacant police chief position with someone committed to further proposing and enacting reforms can produce further results.

Much has been made of the semantics surrounding the phrase, defund the police – a term which means different things to different communities. Just as Black people are not a monolithic group, neither are the remedies to address police brutality, systemic racism and economic disparities in Black communities.

We encourage the adoption of public, deliberative and inclusive processes that result in public safety strategies, reflective of the social norms and values of the communities they serve. It is important that consensus is reached not on the words but on actions that produce better outcomes.

Black communities deserve the type of public safety that can typically be found in more affluent, predominately-white neighborhoods – public safety that functions to protect its citizens. Policing in Black communities is more closely associated with the exercise of force and power to control its residents. More attention is afforded to protecting persons who reside outside of Black communities, rather than in serving its residents.

Simply stated, supportive public safety in affluent white communities happens organically. However, in Black communities this only occurs through more deliberative actions such as the enactment of supportive laws, policies and procedures. The League urges each jurisdiction to undertake deliberative processes. Several ideas worthy of serious considerations include:

– Developing community-based strategies to reimagine police departments.

– Reexamining de-escalation practices and conflict resolution.

– Increasing funding for equity-related initiatives in institutions.

– Ending the use of military equipment by police.

– Changing the culture of policing and ending the code of silence.

– Supporting legislation to prevent law enforcement and correctional officers from raising qualified immunity defenses.

– Engaging social workers and mental health professionals in addressing non-public safety-related incidents.

– Developing initiatives to address health, mental health, economic and employment disparities.

– Supporting economic development, employment and positive youth development programs.

We demand measures to create both, safe and thriving communities. We urge a review of excessive and repressive policing tactics. It is not enough to reform outdated institutions that were not designed to support Black Americans. Through citizen engagement we can adopt public safety policies and practices that respect the sanctity of life because Black Lives Matter!

Lambert is president and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League.

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George H. Lambert Jr.

Geoge H. Lambert Jr. is the President and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League. He has also served as the CEO of the Lorain County Urban League in Lorain, Ohio, and prior to that, the CEO of the Northern Virginia Urban League in Alexandria, Va. In addition, he has served in various capacities with the National Urban League, including a regional consultant for the mid-west central region. In the private sector, Lambert worked as a public affairs senior executive in charge of strategic alliance initiatives on behalf of Fortune 50 telecommunications clients. He also served as a senior principal with the Gasby Group, a full-service strategic fundraising firm. In the non-profit arena, Lambert served as the Senior Director for Resource Development Operations for United Way of the National Capital Area.

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