By Lauren Victoria Burke
We’ve seen it before: The injustice, the reactions, the non-stop talking and tweeting after yet another headline grabbing tragedy. We’ve seen the hours of commentary, the “think pieces,” the marches, the online petitions and the panels.
But what exactly should people be doing? Where should the energy go and what should be pushed for? We’ve heard the generalities: The need for “better education” for example, but let’s talk specifics on what would get results on the issue of the moment: Police brutality.
1. Single issue. Single push. What do the best advocacy organizations do? How do they win? Does the NRA focus on 20 issues at the same time? No. The winning actors on the political stage win because they focus on one or two issues and push until they win.
In the case of police brutality, a push for independent counsels has come up as a solution to deal with police that get away with murder. It didn’t get that way by accident. The strength and focus of the police unions brought us to the point we’re at now.
Several officials have pointed out that activists need to put pressure on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint an independent prosecutor in the case of NYPD Office Daniel Pantaleo killing Eric Garner. In many states the governor can appoint one. In other states the legislature must change state law.
2. Votes and Money. The two languages people in power understand are money and votes. If an advocacy group begins to show they are a threat to power, they will win the attention of elected officials. What’s needed is a PAC on police brutality. One that has a grassroots fundraising strategy like we’ve recently seen with MAYDAY PAC.
In Ferguson, voter registration and voting has been pointed out as obvious points of focus. Just as the the Tea Party successfully elected their candidates who are now in Congress, voting and money were joined to win those elections. On the other side, Police unions have leveraged power over politicians for years.
3. “Organize, Organize. Organize.” The best most effective political advocacy organizations strategize and organize. Ever notices that the NRA doesn’t have marches? What they do have is very targeted focus.
“The success of the Civil Rights movement has taught us when tragedy occurs: don’t agonize organize,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told The Root. “What we have seen spontaneously is that young people across the country have begun to organize in protest to the epidemic of police brutality. We need to take that organization and translate it into legislative action.”
But what legislative action?
Jeffries pointed out that funding for community policing programs have been cut. On Dec. 1, President Obama called for Congress to appropriate $253 million for police training and body cameras.
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) is pushing the Transparency in Policing Act that would provide federal funding for body cameras. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) has a bill that would put the reigns on Pentagon program 1033, the programs allows the Department of Defense to give civilian police surplus war gear for free, including armored vehicles, drones and grenade launchers. Rep. Bobby Scott’s (D-Va.) legislation that requires police to report deaths in police custody to the Department of Justice will be signed into law this week after finding new energy during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
There could also be pressure on the federal officials to stop voting for legislation that gives funding to police departments with police brutality issues.
Legislation is altered by specific and targeted political pressure and advocacy. In the case of an often gridlocked Congress, it requires leverage to attach legislative language onto larger spending bills that are required to pass.
4. Letters. It may not be sexy but even in the age of Twitter and Facebook, simple letter writing is still effective in political advocacy. Though Twitter is immediate, politicians still pay attention to letters addressed to them on specific issues. Why? Because a letter from a constituent is likely a letter from a voter.
“We have to stop trying to organize and strategize after a crisis,” said IMPACT co-founder Angela Rye during CBC Week in September. “At some point we have to really stop and strategize to discuss what we have to do to prevent the next Trayvon… to prevent the next Michael Brown.” She also pointed out that pushing template legislation and targeted letter writing campaigns work.
5. Marching. Marching for the sake of marching — with no demands — has come under much criticism as being ineffective.
But there is no denying that recent marches and demonstrations, after the non-indictments of police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, have put international attention on the issue of police brutality.
“It wouldn’t be an issue without the marches and the protests. The idea of marching and protest is not to solve problems, it’s to raise the attention and raise the notice of a problem,” said Al Sharpton Friday on his radio show, “Keepin’ It Real.”
But notice: The most effective groups at getting their way in politics never march. They would appear to be too busy raising money, strategizing and applying pressure to people in power. It’s time for us to march to a different strategy.
Lauren Victoria Burke is freelance writer and creator of the blog Crewof42.com, which covers African American members of Congress. She Burke appears regularly on “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin” and on WHUR FM, 900 AM WURD. She worked previously at USA Today and ABC News. She can be reached through her website, laurenvictoriaburke.com, or Twitter @Crewof42 or by e-mail at LBurke007@gmail.com.