I wrote here recently on the theme “Don’t Let ‘The Moment’ Pass” and I’ve been focused on that for myself. I’ll spell out some of what has been happening in ROC especially in the wake of the summer of protests and the calls for police reform or transformation or reimagination or defunding or abolishment, etc..
I’m convinced that we need a substantial overhaul of a system with a well-documented history of racial discrimination, excessive use of force, and a warrior mentality. This is a system that too often harms the community and traumatizes the officers as well. We need a police force that is committed to a servant/protector mentality, for our sake and theirs.
The highly energized public protests have subsided, though the leaders, including FreethepeopleROC, continue to advocate for justice. Their affiliate organization, Elders and Allies, is also engaged in creative ways to keep the focus on needed transformation.
Meanwhile, the tedious work of devising and implementing specific change/transformation measures has begun, spurred partly by Governor Cuomo’s challenge to all municipalities that have law enforcement agencies to produce a plan for significant reform/reimagination by April 1, 2021 (Executive Order #203).
Rev. Lewis Stewart, the President of United Christian Leadership Ministry, asked me to organize the development of UCLM’s proposals for reform. Over the past four months we have had over 35 volunteers crafting five major proposals. These will be announced at a press conference this Wednesday, January 6 at 10:30 a.m.. I encourage you to attend to learn more and experience more first-hand. (First Church of God, 334 Clarissa St.; masks please.)
I’ve been awed at times by the spectrum of diversity in this working group. This is the message I’ll deliver that day:
You should know about the people behind these proposals because the character and experiences of the authors gives these proposals credibility.
We had over 35 people participate directly in crafting our five proposals, and those people in turn sought input from many others in the community, people with expertise and experience, whether obtained on the street or in positions of leadership.
Our committee itself was a picture in diversity of many kinds. We include:
- Long-time community activists and leaders.
- Leaders of grass-roots organizations working at street level.
- People who have been very directly impacted by violence in the City, or by violence perpetrated by those sworn to serve and protect.
- People who have been wrongly accused, wrongly arrested, wrongly convicted and wrongly incarcerated. And later exonerated.
- Leaders who work tirelessly to call City residents themselves to responsible citizenship.
- And very importantly: 6 current or retired leaders of law enforcement agencies, who helped us understand how current systems work, what changes will meet resistance, and how to overcome that resistance.
So we were a mosaic of black, brown and white faces all determined not to let “The Moment” pass, to face honestly what has been happening, and to be bold about what needs to happen.
Who will determine which reform proposals are actually adopted? And how will that be determined?
UCLM is one among many parties seeking to impact the final reforms to be implemented. Here is a partial list of groups involved in some way:
- The municipalities themselves (e.g., City of Rochester, County of Monroe) which are required to respond to the Governor’s Order.
- Their law enforcement agencies (e.g., Rochester Police Department, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office).
- The Joint City/County Commission on Racial and Structural Equity, formed to propose responses to the Governor’s order.
- City Council and the County Legislature.
- United Christian Leadership Ministry (which was specifically invited to give input).
- The Police Accountability Board (also invited to give input).
- The District Attorney and the Public Defender.
- Other organizations and individuals looking to have an impact in “The Moment” such as ROCActs and the Police Accountability Board Alliance.
- AND the law firm of WilmerHale, hired for an initial fee of $250,000 to review and suggest changes to the policies and procedures of the Rochester Police Department, as they’ve done in other cities including Baltimore and Chicago. Much controversy about their involvement, partly due to the extreme cost, but also the suspicion that they will promote tweaks vs. more radical transformation – i.e., that they are too pro-police, too oriented to status quo.
To say that the process becomes unclear and convoluted at times would be a severe understatement. So I cannot answer my own questions with clarity. I’ve never “played politics” in such a fluid, sometimes frantic scramble with so much at stake. Exhilarating, frustrating, intriguing. This reminds me of the phrase, “You really don’t want to see sausage being made!”
But at a personal level, particularly with the UCLM commitee, I’ve felt immensely privileged to be working with such richly diverse, savvy and determined people.
I encourage you to follow this process and to find your place in influencing change.
Remember that each municipality (township and village) which has control over its own law enforcement agency is required to respond to Cuomo’s Executive Order. So the process I’ve described which relates primarily to the City and to the County as a whole is mirrored in some way in each of those townships. That includes:
- East Rochester
If you live in one of these municipalities find your place and exert your leverage. Be in touch with your town or village Supervisor or Mayor, its Police Chief, and the governing Board. Find others in the community ready to influence the town’s response to the Governor.