Reimagining Public Safety
By Dianne Anderson
Since the massive protests started just weeks ago, cameras have not stopped rolling on too many incidents to count of peaceful protestors and news reporters getting arrested, gassed, tased, and shot with rubber bullets.
An elderly white man was shoved down by police, left bleeding on the ground, and then walked over by police. Black women were beaten in full view.
Since George Floyd’s killing, cities and states across the country and around the world have banned chokeholds, neck constraints, and other police abuse techniques.
During that same time, there are at least 13 more reported deaths of Black men nationwide. It’s anyone’s guess how many have died in the aftermath of the Floyd murder.
Most recently, an Atlanta officer shot 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks in the back during a sobriety test after he fell asleep at a fast-food drive-through. Brooks died after surgery. One former employer, Ark Restoration & Construction, posted on Instagram that Brooks was one of the kindest, most loyal and hardest working employees they ever had.
In California two Black men were found hanging from trees. Protesters converged in Palmdale by the hundreds, where 24-year-old Robert Fuller was found hanging from a tree near City Hall.
Over the weekend, protesters by the hundreds also converged in Palmdale to challenge the handling of the case that has been labeled initially as a suicide, and to demand an investigation.
Malcolm Harsch, who was 38, was found hanged at a homeless camp in Victorville on May 31.
In both instances, officials say the cases are pending a death investigation, and they do not suspect foul play. At last count, Change.org reports that over 19,500 people have signed the petition for an investigation into Harsch’s death.
“San Bernardino is very busy (as if we aren’t patient enough for necessary answers) but feel that our brother’s death will be waived off as a suicide to avoid any further media attention. Malcolm had very recent conversations with his children about seeing them soon. He didn’t seem to be depressed to anyone who truly knew him,” the family wrote in the petition.
Last week, Governor Newsom announced the state is prepared to reduce police funding, not to “end” police departments, rather reshift monies to support some services that were never meant to be provided by the police, such as homelessness and mental health services.
“If you’re calling for eliminating the police, no. If you’re talking about reimagining … the responsibility that we placed on law enforcement to be social workers and mental health workers and involved in disputes where a badge and a gun are unnecessary, I think absolutely this is an opportunity to look anew at all of the above,” Newsom stated last week.
Some of California’s largest cities are looking into what comes next for public safety, and how institutions will reallocate funding to accommodate social services that, up till now, have been handled by the police.
Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti committed to shifting city funds to a variety of community services, including $250 million in city funds and up to $150 million from the police department.
David Wert, a spokesperson for San Bernardino County, said that Behavioral Health is one of several county departments involved in addressing homelessness, and any movement to start enacting policy strategies at the county level, such as with homelessness and areas of mental health, would be headed up by the County Human Services Agency.
The Sheriff has its own division for serving the homeless, that works cooperatively with the County agencies and departments, Wert added. He said cities and the state can set law enforcement policy, but the counties cannot.
“What the county can do is create a forum where concerns can be discussed, which we have done and will continue to do, and elevate discussions and action on equity to a higher level. That’s why the Board of Supervisors is working to create an Equity Element Group under the auspices of the Countywide Vision,” Wert said.
San Bernardino City departments, including Mayor Valdivia and the City Manager’s Office did not respond to several calls and emails for comment.
Last month, the local Rethink Public Safety San Bernardino Coalition (RPSSB) coalition called for a resolution at a San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors meeting. They provided language for county officials to reevaluate its internal policies on racial equity and the public health crisis facing the Black and Brown community.
As a result of their push for policy change with recommendations from Rev. Sam Casey and the RPSSB Coalition, the language will be considered at the next June 23 meeting. The Countywide Vision element groups now include the word “equity” as a result of the recent vote.
In an email, Sheriff McMahon said they are committed to participate in the element group and bring law and justice partners to the table.
He said the Sheriff’s department is set to increase basic academy mandates for new trainees from 42 hours of principled policing and cultural diversity to 52 hours of training. Focus areas include bias, procedural justice, historical events, culture and ethnicity, stereotypes, discrimination and racial profiling, among others.
“Recently, the Governor of California ordered that all POST training courses which include any instruction in the use of any form of carotid control restraint be discontinued. As a regional training facility, we will comply with POST and the executive order. We have suspended the use and/or training of the carotid restraint pending POST review and legislation,” Sheriff-Coroner McMahon said.
Last week, the Washington Post police shooting database reports that police shot and killed an average of 1,000 people per year over the past five years. They report that police shot and killed 463 people through the first week of June, which was 49 more than the same period in 2019. And in May, police shot and killed 110 people, more than any other one month period.
The Post reports that Black Americans, who only represent 13 percent of the population, are killed at a much higher rate than white Americans, and Hispanic Americans are also killed at a disproportionate rate.
According to Statistica, Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely than whites to be killed by police.
As part of the movement to address disparities in policing and racial justice, the new Justice in Policing Act of 2020 moving in Congress has received extensive support from numerous organizations including, but not limited to, Demand Progress, Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Action Network, National African American Clergy Network, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), Black Millennial Convention, and the National Urban League.
“It’s time to close the chapter on a dark era of unchecked police violence in our country that has wreaked havoc on African American families across the country. The Justice in Policing Act is historic and long overdue legislation that will put our country on a path to reform. This Act is responsive to many of the urgent demands being pressed for by our communities and by the people protesting for racial justice and equity across our nation. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law commends the Congressional Black Caucus for their leadership on policing reform and this critical legislation, including Chair Karen Bass, Senator Cory Booker and Senator Kamala Harris,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
To see the latest Board of Supervisor meetings, go to http://www.sbcounty.gov/Main/Pages/ViewMeetings.aspx.
To sign the petition, see https://www.change.org/p/victorville-justice-for-malcom-harsch