The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
The Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which President Obama created by Executive Order in December, convened for the first time on Tuesday, January 13. The first listening session was on “Building Trust and Legitimacy” and included testimony from five different panels of witnesses representing members of the law enforcement community, local politicians and mayors, community representatives and civil society leaders. The Task Force also solicited public comments – see below for an excerpt of the RAC’s comments and click here to read the comments in full.
Law enforcement officers who risk their lives each day to ensure public safety deserve the respect and appreciation of all Americans. Their work is challenging and the decisions they are forced to make are difficult. We are deeply concerned that incidents that undercut fairness and justice harm the credibility and efforts of law enforcement agencies and personnel and erode respect for law and justice in America more generally. Thus, even as we reaffirm our respect and appreciation for law enforcement, we acknowledge the long-standing structural injustices, particularly concerning race, that plague too much of our society including our criminal justice system.
Race and poverty play roles in determining who gets arrested, who gets a fair trial, and how those convicted are sentenced. There is an increasing perception that our nation has two criminal justice systems, separate and unequal: one for affluent whites and one for racial minorities and the poor. Foremost among the complaints are unequal application of the death penalty, police brutality, racial profiling, sentencing disparity, and structural discrimination in the juvenile justice system.
While the recent cases in cities across the United States involving the questionable use of deadly force by police differ, the common threads running through them dramatize ongoing challenges: economic, social, and racial factors that deny opportunities to individuals of color and erode families and communities; the violence plaguing too many low income communities and communities of color; the violence faced daily by law enforcement, leading some police to view too many in communities of color with suspicion and even hostility; and the different treatment that grand juries and prosecutors too often give to police versus civilian crime suspects. In order to address these structural inequalities, we must look to the roots of the problems and work to:
Define the role of police in a democratic society and hire a diverse workforce
We call for a return to the basic ideals of community policing in which police officers see themselves as community members and are integrated into the neighborhood and culture of their jurisdictions. To that end, police units and command staffs should, to the greatest extent possible, reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the community they serve.
Build a culture of transparency
In order to truly address these problems, we must first fully understand them. The collection of accurate, nationwide data on police use of lethal force can help guide this work. Each city and community needs to review the data and must assess whether victims of law enforcement shootings are disproportionately people of color and if so, officials and civil society representatives must develop a public "action plan" to ameliorate such disparities.
More can also be done with new technologies, such as police body cameras that provide a recording of interactions with the public and can help to protect the interests of all parties.
However, not only do these technologies need to be utilized but also the recordings must be accessible to the public in cases of accusations of unnecessary violence in order to increase transparency and trust within the community.
Ensure procedural justice
As Jews, we are inspired by the words of Leviticus (24:22), "There shall be one law for all of you." Members of law enforcement must also be accountable for their actions. Our grand jury system is in need of reform that reflects this principle. For example, the grand jury system should include the appointment of a special prosecutor in cases where police conduct is at issue.
Additionally, when appropriate to the size of a community and in cases of a clear, ongoing pattern of excessive police violence in general or against specific segments of the community, the efficacy of establishing a representative police review board with subpoena powers must be considered.
Be sure to check out our website for more information about our work on civil rights and criminal justice and urge your Senators and Representatives to help rebuild trust in communities by ending racial profiling.