Tough conversations ahead on policing, race

Local community leaders want to move forward in the wake of a guilty verdict last week for the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd last summer, but many differ on how that happens.

Many activists called the verdict a small step toward accountability, and support sweeping reforms or an overhaul of the criminal justice system.

Some area law enforcement leaders say dialogue about race relations and police reform are important, while some say the Chauvin verdict proves the system works and lamented false narratives around policing.

Law enforcement and activists agree the country and our local community are in a state of turmoil.

The Dayton Daily News asked some local leaders about what comes next, including those in criminal justice, activism, faith, education and mental health, posing to them this question: “After the Chauvin verdict, where does our community go from here?”

Here are their responses, which have been edited for length.

Amaha Sellassie, co-founder of Gem City Market; professor of sociology at Sinclair Community College; member of the Dayton Human Relations Council

Locally, George Floyd’s murder made visible the need to acknowledge how race is embedded in the underlying assumptions of how our institutions and structures are formed. Citizens, institutions, businesses and non-profits have taken a deeper step to examine how the root assumptions of “whiteness” have shaped their thinking and institutional practices.

This past year has seen great steps towards addressing this reality, multiple cities including Dayton and Montgomery County have named racism a public health issue in alignment with the recent national CDC statement. This has led to over 90 local businesses also declaring racism a public health issue.

The question now is how do we create some type of community of practice to enable us to explore what this means, develop a shared language and support each other as we press to make tangible the inherent dignity of every human being.

The Chauvin verdict is a great step toward accountability on the national level. On the local level, I think we continue to implement and actualize the recommendations that were birthed out of the (Dayton police reform) working groups. How do we increase the use of social workers for calls that may involve mental health issues, increase the total number of hours of de-escalation training, should policing be seen as a public health issue?

Patrick Oliver, director of the criminal justice program at Cedarville University; former police chief in Fairborn, Grandview Heights and Cleveland

In the wake of multiple high-profile law enforcement critical incidents, some community members are questioning police performance. Therefore, Ohio law enforcement administrators are evaluating certain police practices. Some of the key areas being examined are the use of independent use-of-force investigations, hiring practices, adding body-worn cameras, de-escalation strategies and diversity training. These areas are also the focus of proposed statewide legislation and new policing standards. All of these assessments are helpful to the future of policing.

The Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office

This trial was not just about the actions of Derek Chauvin, it was a trial about police policy, procedure and accountability. As a community, we must demand that our police agencies conduct a rigorous review of their use of force policies, procedures, and training to ensure that de-escalation is primary and that force is used only when necessary, as a last resort, and in a manner that is proportional to the threat being faced. Additionally, we must demand a full-scale review of our entire approach to public safety. We need to ask ourselves who really needs to be arrested, what offenses need to be prosecuted, and what offenses could be better handled through mediation and diversion. Demanding that police be held accountable for their actions is only the first step in the ultimate goal of dismantling a criminal justice system rooted in structural racism and “tough on crime” policies that cause harm to the citizens of our community and do little to keep them safe.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl

(After the Chauvin verdict,) the larger work of social justice remains. In that quest, community members with support from the criminal justice system and law enforcement, all play a significant role in fulfilling this noble and civic duty.

The improvements in safety in the city of Dayton over the past decade were a result of the combined effort between the community, elected and appointed officials, and police. More recently, all have joined together to recommend and implement changes in policing practices. We are committed to continuing this important work collaboratively, to create a community where we are all proud to live, work and recreate. How we respond will make all the difference!

Springboro Police Chief Jeffrey Kruithoff

Credit: Robert Leifheit

Credit: Robert Leifheit

The current state of affairs has been full of emotion since we all saw the video from last May. The actions of the officer were universally condemned, but a narrative was introduced that this officer would not be held accountable. That narrative turned out to be false …

Unfortunately, a factual discussion cannot occur until the emotion of these events has passed. That may never occur. The current narrative that most of our police officers are all racists, undertrained, and in need of a major overhaul in their practices is too well established in our national discourse right now.

We can have and encourage conversations. Conversations that make us uncomfortable. Conversations that cause us to be vulnerable, and open ourselves up to criticism. We have to stop yelling at each other from across the street.

The first thing to continually emphasize is that although it should have never happened, the system worked for George Floyd in the same feeble manner it works for thousands of people who are murdered every year in our country.

Everything in life can be improved and our system of justice is just one of them … Earlier this year, the city of Springboro and the Division of Police began a community dialog on race. The first panel discussion was held in February where the police chief facilitated a discussion with four Black men about their experiences growing up.

The next panel discussion will be held this coming Wednesday where a local Black pastor will facilitate a discussion among five Black police officers called “Law Enforcement from a Black Perspective.” These efforts to promote dialog in a largely white community are important to get people talking and keep them talking. It is only through reasoned and convincing dialog where change occurs.

Nikol Miller, executive director of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

On the same day that Derrick Chauvin was rightfully convicted in the murder of George Floyd, the Black community had to brace ourselves with the news of the officer involved killing of Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus. The community needs to see accountability for police misconduct. Congress need to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that focuses on ending dangerous police techniques, such as chokeholds and carotid holds, essentially banning no-knock warrants by state and local government agencies, require local and state police agencies to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of body cameras, and create a national police misconduct registry to prevent police officers who are fired or pushed out for bad performance from being hired by other agencies.

Donald Domineck, chair of the Dayton chapter of the New Black Panthers

I believe that we must continue to be vigilant about police issues in Dayton and the U.S. as a whole. We do this by education, encouragement and inspiration. I was on the Dayton police reform counsels and we made 100 recommendations to the city. We must encourage city officials to pass those recommendations and then be vigilant in making sure they are implemented. Whenever issues arise where there is questionable behavior by police, the community has to deal with those issues in a prompt manner, and police must be held accountable.

Fred Lambert, a Dayton community organizer and frequent protester of police brutality

We need to use this as a way to push forward and say, “Ok, so this happened, so now we have a precedent.” And we need to be willing and able to use that precedent to say, “Look, officers have been convicted before.” Moving forward we need to be able to use this as a way to bring it into the local community and say, “Look, if Chauvin can be convicted in Minneapolis, we can start convicting officers in Montgomery County, Columbus, Cincinnati and Ohio.”

And people most affected need to be the leaders of this movement. I don’t want my face to be at the front of anything because I’m a white man.

Michael Sherr, professor of social work at Cedarville University; member of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties

We have to focus on listening to the experiences of people of color in the community. White citizens need to recognize that color blindness is not an option. We need to seek unity as fellow human beings while celebrating differences. We need to find ways to think of others as more valuable than ourselves.

As community leaders, we need to take a hard look at the institutional policies and practices in place that continue to funnel issues into color blind solutions. Equity in access, resources and opportunities need to be part of community decision-making priorities of leaders and all constituents.

At the same time, we need individual citizens in our diverse communities to hold themselves accountable to living in harmony, taking responsibility for their families, and forgiving themselves and others when they are wronged. Simple things such as talking with people who look different from you, waving, making eye contact, and communicating respect and dignity to each person would go a long way to ensuring civil harmony.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Sabrina Jordan, founder of Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality

My organization Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality, and Cynthia Brown’s organization Deescalate Ohio Now out of Columbus partnered up, and formed a committee called Accountability Now Ohio to apply with the Ohio Attorney General’s office to collect signatures for petitions to get a ballot initiative to end qualified immunity for police officers in Ohio for 2022. Ending qualified immunity in Ohio is what we need to do next to protect communities from police terror.

Police need to know that they will be held accountable when they pull their weapon to kill. The police always claim they feared for their lives; we fear for our lives when we are pulled over by police, or in any form of contact with them, but we are not allowed to protect ourselves from the police. The communities are way past tired of police brutality. We are attacking the laws that allow police to terrorize us.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones

I wish I knew the answer. It’s so divided right now. It’s even divided by different groups of people, different politicians.

The Republican party, the Democratic party, everybody’s got sides they’ve chosen. And I think the police are in the middle and (they have) no support; they’re all being thrown under the bus.

It’d be nice if we had a leader that could bring people together and come up with some solutions, but I don’t know who that is.

I admit I have no idea how to fix this, but shouting and screaming and setting buildings on fire or injuring people is not the way.

Lawrence Burnley, vice president of diversity at the University of Dayton

First and foremost, (where we go from here) has to be informed by where we are. And an examination of where we are socially, economically, politically would involve a really critical assessment of where we’ve been.

There are ways in which each of us, consciously or unconsciously largely, participate in advancing systems and policies and practices that are in fact racist … We must engage in purposeful collaboration and dialogue with persons from across various sectors of our society.

There’s an increasing number of people who are ready. I think there’s still far too many of us that are not, quite frankly.

We don’t have an educational system that brings marginalized narratives and voices of LGBTQ-plus communities, women, African Americans, Native Americans, Latinx to the center of intellectual discourse. And we don’t have good intuition saying we must engage these voices in order to be considered well educated, quite the contrary.

We have to choose to position ourselves to reeducate ourselves about how we understand our past, which will inform how we understand our present, thereby positioning us in a way to imagine a very different future and a pathway to how to get there together.

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