Holding police accountable
By Melanie Bates
“Mere access to the courthouse doors does not by itself assure a proper functioning of the adversary process.” This profound quote by Thurgood Marshall succinctly illustrates the importance of knowing your rights when encountering the justice system, especially if you are African American. It is undisputed
that African Americans are racially profiled and discriminated against consistently by law enforcement, due to implicit bias stemming from the horrendous history of this nation
African Americans are pulled over by police
, searched, and arrested at tremendously higher rates than whites. In Washington, D.C., between 2009 and 2011, more than 8 out of 10 residents arrested
were African American. The inmate population
at the D.C. jail is 89.1% African American, but African Americans only make up 48.3% of the city’s population! These figures are shocking and demonstrate how African Americans must always be prepared to demand equal treatment under the law. Unfortunately, I recently found myself in a situation where I would need to do so.
A few months ago, my friends and I were passengers in my friend's vehicle, a newer model Maserati, when we were pulled over by D.C. police for no apparent reason. We were followed by this officer for at least .25 miles prior to being stopped. We were told the reason for the stop was due to a call about a woman in distress. The officer also stated that my friend failed to use his turn signal. Both of these statements appeared to be unfounded. After the officer collected my friend's license and registration and returned to the vehicle, he stated that sometimes foxes are mistaken for a woman's scream. He then issued a warning for failure to signal. My friends and I were outraged. The stop seemed to be an obvious act of racial profiling and a clear abuse of discretion. We were four young African Americans in a luxury vehicle, driving in an upper class neighborhood in the early morning hours. I shudder to imagine how this incident would have ended had my friend not indicated he lived in the neighborhood.
Fortunately, the District of Columbia established a mechanism
for residents to hold law enforcement accountable. The
agency was opened in 2001 and is called the Office of Police Complaints
(OPC). The stated mission of OPC is to increase community trust in the District of Columbia police forces by providing a fair, thorough, and independent system of civilian oversight of law enforcement. Residents can file complaints against the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and D.C. Housing Authority Office of Public Safety within 90 days of an incident.
Since OPC opened, it has received
approximately 15,830 total contacts with potential complainants and has handled 6,968 formal complaints.
I submitted my complaint to OPC via the online form
. A few weeks later, I was interviewed by an OPC investigator. My case was then referred to mediation
. In mediation, the mediator guides you and the officer through a dialogue about the incident that led to the complaint with the goal of reaching a common understanding. My mediation went surprisingly well. The officer was very cordial. He provided an extensive history of his background and thought process for the stop. He said hindsight is 20/20 and described what he would have done differently. He was clearly briefed and his statements seemed a bit rehearsed, but I think he was genuinely concerned and empathetic about my frustrations as an African American woman in America. The officer’s body worn camera footage did not capture the alleged failure to signal so it was essentially his word against mine. In the end, I agreed to resolve the complaint. It was a transformative learning experience. I was able to hear directly from the officer about his perspective of the incident and he was able to identify what he could have done differently, hopefully leading him to make better choices in the future.
I strongly encourage all residents to take advantage of the services OPC has to offer. While it can be an extensive process, the results are invaluable. You will feel empowered and motivated to help others fight for their rights. We must come together and join forces to hold our government accountable to its citizens. Our collective action will effectuate movement towards a more fair and balanced justice system.Whites killing black men more likely to be ruled ‘justifiable’
When a black man is killed by a white person in America, the crime is statistically more likely to be ruled 'justifiable,' according to a report by The Marshall Project. The organization examined more than 400,000 homicides between 1980 and 2014, and found that in one out of six of these killings, no charges were filed. That works out to 17% of cases where a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian. Details on the study are available at The Marshall Project website. Attorney says evidence clears Missouri man facing death penalty
UPDATE: The Washington Post reports
that Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has stayed Marcellus Williams' execution, and will appoint a board to investigate the DNA evidence that Williams' attorneys say clears him.
Marcellus Williams is scheduled to be executed this evening in Missouri, but his attorney says Williams' DNA is not on the murder weapon and is fighting to stop the execution. Williams' attorney is asking the Supreme Court to halt the execution and consider the new evidence. However, prosecutors say the DNA evidence doesn't overcome other evidence connecting Williams to the crime. A jury convicted Williams of the stabbing death of 42-year-old newspaper reporter Felicia Gayle, who was stabbed 43 times in her home in August 1998. CNN has details on Williams' fight to stay alive.
10 ways to fight hate
How should someone take steps to fight hate in their own hometown? The Southern Poverty Law Center
has published "Ten Ways to Fight Hate,"
a list of ways that communities can peacefully challenge bias, bigotry and hate crimes. While about 6,000 hate crimes are reported to the FBI each year, many more go unreported. Learn more about how the SPLC recommends fighting hate in your community here.
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