The debate over police accountability and the recent shootings has been so polarized that it was refreshing last night to hear the serious and articulate individuals of the city's Human Rights Commission weigh in on the need to reform police oversight (details on the proposed reforms here).
One of the common themes that I hear when I talk to citizens as well as to the committee is that some people feel like they are viewed in a suspicious manner and have their opinions suppressed. Well, I walk out in the street every single day and people look at me with a level of distrust that is concerning. This is not just a job for me, it’s a belief. A fundamental belief in right and wrong. Why do we need this change in such a way that we call it an emergency? ... This is such a drastic, drastic change at a time when we are on a road that is heading in a really positive direction. I know that there is crisis right now in the community. And I’m smart enough to know that I am biased. But so are the people who sit on the other side of the table and point fingers. And that’s why we sit at the table together, to work through times like these.
The response of human rights committee member Kathleen Sadaat, a long-time African-American activist, was profound:
When cultures clash, there’s always change. And the change is always painful. In the long run, you belong to me. In the long run, you belong to me. You are my police force. I believe that you feel distressed when you walk down the street and people look at you askance. But what I want you to remember is your culture has a gun on its hip. Mine does not have one. And that makes a big difference when we try to talk.
Often, what I will feel is you have the power and I have none. When you talk about there not being an emergency, I say, for whom? There is not an emergency for the police department in the way that it operates. But in the way it is perceived, there is an emergency. The perception is that there has been no change.
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