“Abolish the police” is an activist slogan, not a policy embraced by elected Democrats.
In New York City, for example, the police budget is once again on the rise.
Police reform is popular. Activist slogans are not. Some Republicans want to conflate the two.
At a hearing last month, Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, made an astonishing claim: Leading members of the Democratic Party don’t just want to reform policing, he said – they want to get rid of law enforcement altogether.
“There are multiple elected Democrats who vocally embrace abolishing the police,” Cruz claimed. “It’s not just the mayor of New York City. It’s not just the mayor of Minneapolis. It’s not just the mayor of Portland that advocated abolishing the police.”
As Cruz told it, it was getting damn near impossible to find an elected Democrat who doesn’t support “getting rid of the men and women in blue that keep us safe.”
The problem is that it’s not true, of course, and Cruz’s office could not provide any proof that it is. This is something the senator said was not a mere inference but a position these mayors had been vocal about endorsing. Asked for such evidence, Dave Vasquez, a spokesperson for the senator, told Insider he’d be “following up shortly.” He never did.
An activist slogan, not a Democratic position
The truth is that while some activists have embraced the slogan, “Abolish the police,” few of them would be happy if they were identified as Democrats, positioning themselves far to the left of any mere liberal. And none of them hold public office, much less the top job in cities where police played an active role in both inciting and quelling civil unrest last summer.
Fewer still truly believe what Republicans like Cruz would have people think.
“Defund does not mean abolish policing,” notes Rashawn Ray, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “And, even some who say abolish, do not necessarily mean to do away with law enforcement altogether.”
For better or worse, these activists have chosen revolutionary rhetoric for what is essentially a reformist demand: not that we abolish the entire concept of upholding the law, but that we end policing as it exists today – where officers from outside the community enjoy “qualified immunity” for wrongdoing on the job – and replace it with a system where cops with guns are, for example, not the first responders to every mental health crisis.
At most, elected Democrats support shifting some money from law enforcement to other priorities. Bill de Blasio, the New York City mayor that Cruz accused of wanting to abolish blue lives, embraced that after nationwide protests against police killings. The result was the country’s largest police department receiving $10.2 billion in 2021, down from $10.5 billion the year before – much of it due to a “one-time reduction in overtime expenses,” according to the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission.
Indeed, for 2022, the New York police budget is going back up to $10.4 billion. Abolition this is not.
Abolish cops? Democrats say ‘that’s a bad idea’
In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey – another proponent of “abolishing the police,” per Cruz – has discussed a “structural revamp” of the police department that employed Derek Chauvin, the officer convicted of murdering George Floyd. “But abolishing the police department? No, I think that’s a bad idea,” he told NPR.
In Portland, meanwhile, the police budget under Mayor Ted Wheeler – another alleged proponent of abolition – went from $214.9 million in 2017, his first year in office, to $244.6 million this year.
Sen. Cruz says he thinks “abolishing the police is insanity.” He should take comfort, then, in the fact that even America’s liberal mayors have no intention of doing it.
Last month, Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, said negotiations over a bipartisan police reform bill had fallen apart because his Democratic colleagues had sought to “defund” law enforcement.
That was too much for even the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents more than 356,000 members of law enforcement, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “[A]t no point did any legislative draft propose ‘defunding the police,'” the groups said in a joint statement. Indeed, the opposite: “the legislation specifically provided additional funding.”
The truth is that, to the chagrin of some on the left, the number of Democrats who support significant cuts to police spending is few, and the number who support abolishing law enforcement altogether is zero. And the truth is Republicans know this.
They also know that, as slogans go, defunding or abolishing police (whatever nuance activists might intend) poll terribly, and one way to derail overwhelmingly popular police reform – and hurt the Democratic Party – is by tying it to something that it is not.
The Senate is no stranger to grandstanding or demagoguery – to politics – but extraordinary claims require at least something in the way of evidence. When asked for some, Cruz and his staff came up empty.
Groups that represent more than 350,000 members of law enforcement are pushing back on a GOP senator’s claim that efforts to forge a bipartisan compromise on police reform legislation collapsed because Democrats were seeking to “defund” law enforcement.
In an interview with CBS News over the weekend, Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, said negotiations on a police reform bill in the Senate fell apart because members did not want to “participate in reducing funding for the police after we saw a major city after major city defund the police.”
But in a joint statement issued Tuesday, the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police said such claims were untrue.
Saying they were “disappointed” that negotiations fell apart, the groups said that, “at no point did any legislative draft propose ‘defunding the police.'” In fact, “the legislation specifically provided additional funding to assist law enforcement agencies in training, agency accreditation, and data collection initiatives.”
Scott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The measure would also have established a national registry of police misconduct, making it more difficult for problematic officers to find employment after being forced out of a department elsewhere.
Republicans and police alike had objected to the language on qualified immunity, with Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, proposing instead to increase federal prosecutors’ ability to prosecute police wrongdoing, The Wall Street Journal reported.
In their statement, the nation’s leading police groups said the reforms that had been under consideration “would have strengthened the law enforcement profession.”
The California Assembly just passed a bill that aims to increase the accountability of law enforcement in the state.
Gov. Gavin Newsom now has 12 days to sign or veto the bill, which passed the California Assembly with a vote of 46 to 18 on Friday. It was previously passed in the state Senate on May 26 with a vote of 26 to 9.
The bill, if signed into law, adjusts qualified immunity – the defense that protects state and local government officials, including law enforcement, from individual liability unless there is a clear violation of constitutional rights – for law enforcement.
It would also set up a process by which law enforcement officers charged with wrongdoing including sexual assault, excessive use of force, perjury are stripped of their badges.
The bill, which failed in the California legislature last year, reemerged as a result of the George Floyd protests.
California is one of only four states – Hawaii, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are the others – without a decertification process for police officers meaning officers that are convicted of a felony can still get jobs in different departments.
The California bill, co-authored by state Sen. Toni Atkins, is similar to the decertification process in Massachusetts, which just became law in January 2021.
“California is able to revoke the certification or licenses of bad doctors, lawyers, and even barbers and cosmetologists, but is unable to decertify police officers who have broken the law and violated the public trust,” said Sen. Steven Bradford, also a co-author of the bill, pointed out to Insider.
Officers accused of misconduct would undergo a fair review process, per the bill, and those convicted of a crime would be registered into the National Decertification Index. This would prohibit them from working in law enforcement in states that have a decertification process.
For Bradford, who represents Gardena, California, the implications of the bill hit close to home. California Senate Bill 2, or Kenneth Ross Jr. Decertification Act, is named after a 25-year-old Black man who was killed by Gardena Police Officer Michael Robbins on April 11, 2018.
The killing of Kenneth Ross Jr.
Police received calls on a Wednesday afternoon in 2018 about a shooting in front of a building on Van Ness Ave. in Gardena, according to a report from then-District Attorney Jackie Lacey. One caller estimated that 20 shots were fired. According to the report, the suspect was described as a Black man with locs near El Segundo Blvd and Van Ness Ave.
Several officers responded, including Sargent Michael Robbins. Ross Jr. was running away when officers shouted commands at him. Robbins, using a department-issued AR-15 rifle, fired two shots as Ross Jr. was running away.
Video footage from officer body cameras and dash cameras was released nearly two years later. His mother describes the video of the incident at multiple rallies. She said that after Robbins shot and killed him, they still handcuffed and searched his body.
The Gardena Police Department said in a press release that a gun was found on the scene and that he’d fired a gun earlier.
The Ross family attorney disputes this claim, however. “They said he had a gun. We have the video of when he fell,” Haytham Faraj told local news station KABC. “They then handcuff him to search him. They do search him. They find nothing.”
The Gardena Police Department did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Robbins was later absolved of all wrongdoing by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in 2019 – then Lacey’s office. The District Attorney’s office said in a press release at the time, “It is our conclusion that Officer Robbins acted in self-defense and in an effort to arrest a dangerous fleeing felon.”
State Sen. Bradford told CapRadio that Robbins had been involved in previous shootings as an officer in Orange County before joining the department in Gardena – a claim that local activists told Insider when pointing to their support of this bill.
Los Angeles activists and organizers have been demanding justice
Sheila Bates, an organizer with the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, told Insider that this is the second year of bringing the bill back “in the names of all of those who we have lost.”
Latinos, who make up 39% of the California population, account for 46% of police killings in the state, while the percentage of police killings (15.2%) is more than double the state population of Black people (6.5%), according to Calmatters, a nonprofit newsroom.
Calmatters estimates that between 100 and 200 people die at the hands of law enforcement in California each year. Local news station KTLA estimates that 885 people have been killed by police in Los Angeles County alone since 2000 – most of whom were Black or Latino. The Los Angeles Times Homicide Report – a free tool that tracks, categorizes, and details the deaths of victims – estimates that 22 people have been killed by law enforcement so far in 2021 in Los Angeles County alone.
Albert Corado, a co-founder of People’s City Council-LA and a candidate for LA City Council District 13, told Insider that he became an abolitionist when his sister, Mely Corado, was killed by LAPD while doing her job at Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake – a neighborhood in Los Angeles.
“And so, as it stands, because cops have qualified immunity, they can do something, kill someone and then basically move on and go to another department, and move to another city and be hired as a police officer,” Corado told Insider.
The bill aims to decertify convicted officers
The Kenneth Ross Jr. Decertification Act aims to strengthen the accountability of law enforcement.
A decertification process would prevent law enforcement who have been convicted of misconduct – ranging from excessive force and sexual assault to dishonesty and falsifying evidence – to continue their career in law enforcement.
The Peace Officer Standards Accountability Division, under the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), would look into “serious misconduct that may provide grounds for suspension or revocation of a peace officer’s certification.” An advisory board would then make the recommendation about the officer’s certification to POST. POST would then act accordingly.
Two now-former Torrance police officers, who were relieved of their positions last year, were charged with conspiracy and vandalism on Thursday, August 19, for an incident that involved a spray-painted swastika on the inside of an impounded vehicle.
Bradford told Insider that, without a decertification process, these officers could be hired on to a new department and “continue their racist and hateful misconduct.”
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
“It’s incredibly important that there’s a bill get passed so that we can finally be able to make sure that officers who engage in misconduct aren’t able to go to another community in another department and terrorize and kill people in another department and another, in another community from their department,” Bates told Insider.
What opponents of the bill say
Qualified immunity was established in 1967 as a result of the Pierson v. Ray US Supreme Court case. The court ruled that so long as the misconduct or violation was executed in “good faith,” the law enforcement officer could rely on qualified immunity.
Critics of qualified immunity say that it’s hard for plaintiffs to get accountability for alleged officer wrongdoing. This specific bill adjusts the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act of 1987 to “make it easier for a family to seek justice if your civil rights have been violated, if you have been falsely arrested or framed or brutalized or denied medical assistance,” Bradford told Spectrum News 1.
Those who support it say qualified immunity allows officers to do their jobs without worrying about potential individual lawsuits. And the part of the bill that tweaks qualified immunity is opposed by law enforcement groups.
“If this bill was just about decertification, we’d probably have no issue with it, but it’s not, and they call it the decertification bill, but it’s much more than that,” Shaun Rundle, deputy director for the California Peace Officers’ Association, told Spectrum News 1.
In a statement to CapRadio, Brian Marvel, President of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, said “SB 2 reaches far beyond the police licensing process and includes policies that would be incredibly burdensome on cities and counties that employ peace officers.”
The National Police Support Fund, a grassroots pro-police organization, believes that qualified immunity is necessary for police officers to do their jobs.
“As homicides and other violent crimes continue to rise around the country, qualified immunity is essential for allowing police to do their jobs without fear of baseless legal action that could ruin their reputations and their careers,” the organization said in an article on their website.
“Officers must have room to make mistakes or have moments of bad judgment without worrying about being sued,” the National Police Support Fund said on their site.
Insider reached out to several California police departments and lawmakers who declined to comment on the bill.
The Los Angeles DA’s office, now run by George Gascón, however, released a press statement saying it was in support of the bill.
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A Minneapolis Home Depot employee who wore a Black Lives Matter logo on his apron and spoke to other workers about racial discrimination was suspended after he refused to remove the logo, according to a labor board complaint.
The Minneapolis branch of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said in the complaint that the worker started wearing the “BLM” lettering on his apron in August 2020. Sometime this year, the company told the employee to either remove the logo or leave the store, the complaint said. This led to him being suspended, it said.
The Home Depot store then gave the worker an ultimatum: stop wearing the logo or quit, the complaint said. In a statement on August 18, The NLRB accused the hardware giant of constructive discharge because the employee eventually left his job. Home Depot “unlawfully enforced its otherwise lawful dress code” and “threatened employees not to engage in activity regarding racial harassment,” it said.
The unnamed worker had “various conversations with coworkers, supervisors, and managers about subjects such as ongoing discrimination and harassment” at the store in Minneapolis, the complaint said, although it did not provide further details.
Home Depot told Insider that the complaint “misrepresents the relevant facts.”
“The Home Depot does not tolerate workplace harassment of any kind and takes all reports of discrimination or harassment seriously, as we did in this case,” a spokeswoman said.
“We disagree with the characterization of this situation and look forward to sharing the facts during the NLRB’s process,” she said.
While the hardware store’s dress code prohibits displays of “causes or political messages unrelated to workplace matters,” the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows workers to bring attention to discrimination they may be facing in the workplace, the NLRB said.
“Issues of racial harassment directly impact the working conditions of employees,” Jennifer Hadsall, NLRB’s regional director in Minneapolis, said in a statement.
“The NLRA protects employees’ rights to raise these issues with the goal of improving their working conditions,” she said.
Aides drafted a proclamation in case former President Donald Trump invoked the Insurrection Act to call in active-duty troops in response to the Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, DC, The New York Times reported Friday.
Last summer, protestors gathered across the nation following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in police custody after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 10 minutes.
On June 1, 2020, Trump expressed interest to former Attorney General Bill Bar, former defense Mark Esper, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, Gen. Mark Milley, to deploy active-duty troops in Washington, DC, amid the protests last year, two senior Trump administration officials told The Times.
The Times reported that the former president was talked out of deploying the military to patrol the streets by the three former administration officials. Barr told Trump that civilian police forces had enough personnel to respond to the protests and invoking the Insurrection Act could provoke more violence and unrest, according to The Times report.
“We look weak,” Mr. Trump said, according to one of the officials, The Times reported.
But the proclamation was drafted in the event that Trump decided to do so and in the event that DC Mayor Muriel Bowser refused to implement a city-wide curfew – which she later put into place – and other measures to curb the protests, one former senior administration official said Trump was aware the document was prepared.
Trump ultimately never invoked the act, but in an address in the Rose Garden that same evening, he indicated he would deploy the military if city and state leaders declined to take action.
“If the city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residence, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said.
In a statement to The Times, Trump denied that he wanted to invoke the Insurrection Act.
“It’s absolutely not true and if it was true, I would have done it,” Trump told The Times in a statement.
A representative for Trump did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.
The Insurrection Act, which grants the president authority to use active-duty troops for law enforcement, has only been invoked twice in the last four decades – once in response to the widespread looting and civil unrest after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and another during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles after the acquittal four Los Angeles Police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King.
George Floyd’s brother pleaded Friday for former police officer Derek Chauvin to be given the maximum sentence possible for his role in the killing, saying his own family has already been given a “life sentence.”
Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter in April 2021 for killing Floyd last May in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Speaking at Chauvin’s sentencing hearing, Philonise Floyd said that he has been tormented by the murder of his brother, which sparked a summer of protests across the country. The video of George Floyd’s killing, in which Chauvin kneels on his neck for more than nine minutes, was seen around the world.
“For an entire year, I had to relive George being tortured to death every hour of the day, only taking naps and not knowing what a good night’s sleep is anymore,” Floyd said.
“With a smirk on his face… Officer Chauvin used excessive force and acted against his training. Chauvin had no regard for human life – George’s life,” he said.
He urged the judge to hand Chauvin the maximum sentence for each charge, or up to 75 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
“My family and I have been given a life sentence,” he said. “We will never be able to get George back.”
The House on Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation to make June 19, known as Juneteenth, a national holiday celebrating the emancipation of people who were enslaved in the US.
The bill passed by 415-14 vote, with all votes against it coming from Republicans.
“It has been a long journey,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Houston and author of the bill, said on the floor. “This bill and this day is about freedom.”
The bill passed the Senate 24 hours earlier, winning unanimous support on Tuesday. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law ahead of this weekend’s annual celebration.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, had been vocally opposed to the legislation, saying that it was too costly to give federal employees another day off work. But he ended his blockade of the bill on Tuesday, which allowed the Senate to move forward.
In the House Wednesday, Republican objections largely focused on process, with speakers complaining about the bill being fast-tracked without sufficient committee input. Rep. Clay Higgins, a Republican from Louisiana, objected to the name of the bill, the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act,” saying that it was “coopting” the Fourth of July. But he added that he supported it regardless.
Democrats, meanwhile, linked the creation of the holiday to fights for social justice.
“It’s also a recognition that we have so much work to do to rid this country of systemic racism, discrimination, and hate,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat from Detroit, said. “Juneteenth, what we are doing today, should empower us to fight even harder every single day for criminal-justice reform, for racial equality, and for economic empowerment of Black people in America.”
Juneteenth will become the US’s 11th federal holiday. The last one, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was added to the calendar nearly 40 years ago. The legislation will give federal employees a day off, and private companies are expected to follow suit.
On the campaign trail last year, Biden publicly commemorated the holiday by tweeting: “#Juneteenth reminds us of how vulnerable our nation is to being poisoned by systems and acts of inhumanity-but it’s also a reminder of our ability to change.
“Together, we can lay the roots of real and lasting justice, and become the extraordinary nation that was promised to all.”
Juneteenth, which has been celebrated since the late 1800s, comemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced that the region’s 250,0000 enslaved African Americans had been emancipated, thus ending slavery in the last Confederate territory.
The day came two years after President Abraham Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation and a few months after Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and “involuntary servitude,” except as punishment for a crime.
“It’s long overdue to be recognized as a federal holiday,” Rep. Randy Weber, a Republican who represents Galveston, said Wednesday. “Juneteenth reminds us of the freedom so bravely defended by so many Americans,”
He added that it “reminds us we have a ways to go.”
Calls to make Juneteenth a national holiday, which has been in the works for years, gained momentum last year amid the nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday mentioned both the Black Lives Matter movement and the January 6 Capitol insurrection as justification for the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and the Kremlin’s remarkable crackdown on dissent.
Putin was asked by ABC News reporter Rachel Scott why so many of his opponents end up dead or in prison. “What are you so afraid of?” she asked.
The longtime Russian leader and former KGB officer bristled at the question initially.
Putin, appearing solo before President Joe Biden spoke to the press, lumped the Black Lives Matter movement in with looting and violence that broke out at some protests in the US last summer.
“We saw disorder, destruction, violations of law. We feel sympathy with the USA, but we don’t want that to happen on our territory,” Putin said through an English translator.
Putin also justified his government’s crackdown on dissent by comparing it to the US government’s prosecution of January 6 rioters, which is a talking point he’s reiterated a number of times in recent days that echoes GOP efforts to whitewash deadly insurrection.
“As for who is killing whom or are throwing whom in jail, people came to the US Congress with political demands,” Putin said. “Over 400 people had criminal charges placed on them. They face prison sentences of up to 28, maybe even 25 years. They’re being called domestic terrorists.”
Biden did not buy Putin’s analogy when he spoke to the press later in the day.
“I think that’s a ridiculous comparison,” Biden said of Putin citing the Jan. 6 insurrection and Black Lives Matter.
The Russian president has made a habit out of deflecting to criticism of the US when pressed about his record on human rights. He also repeatedly engages in whataboutism, and tends to accuse the US and its Western allies of hypocrisy when his repressive leadership style is scrutinized.
Putin during Wednesday’s press conference continued this trend as he addressed questions about Navalny, refusing to even say the anti-corruption campaigner’s name. The Russian leader simply referred to Navalny, his most prominent critic, as “this person.”
Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok last August, which nearly killed him, and was subsequently taken to Germany for treatment. Putin, whose critics have often died in violent or suspicious ways, has been widely accused of poisoning Navalny. The Biden administration issued sanctions against Russian officials in March over Navalny’s poisoning.
Upon returning to Moscow in January, Navalny was promptly arrested and subsequently sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for violating parole – including while receiving treatment in Germany – from a 2014 embezzlement conviction denounced as politically motivated by top human rights groups.
Navalny’s imprisonment has prompted mass protests in Russia, but hasn’t slowed down Putin’s ruthless effort to squash dissent. Last week, Navalny’s top aide told Insider that Putin was “dumb” to put the Kremlin critic behind bars because it turned him into a symbol for people to rally behind.
In my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and across the United States, Black Americans are concerned about losing a loved one to a police shooting. Police are supposed to protect and serve, but many of us fear being murdered by them. As a pastor, I see firsthand how that fear grips my community. However, I’ve noticed a shift in our country. America has finally acknowledged that we have a policing problem.
Tulsa has a long history of racial inequity and violence. The city’s tragic past is in the spotlight as we mark the 100th anniversary of the racially based riot that destroyed a thriving Black community. As a kid, I grew up hearing about the achievements of those who created the prosperous African American enclave of Greenwood, also known as Black Wall Street. I also heard about the murderous white mob that overran the town in 1921, killing 300 people or more and leaving Greenwood in ruins. Recently our mayor initiated the search for the mass graves from the massacre, a gesture that begins to heal the wounds of our past, and President Biden is planning on visiting Tulsa today to pay his respects.
There’s not a single Black person in Tulsa who doesn’t feel the collective trauma of that racial violence. That fear is not based only on the heinous attack on Black Wall Street, but on the way law enforcement has disproportionately been wielded against the city’s Black residents in the 100 years since.
I helped found the Tulsa chapter of Black Lives Matter in 2016, after the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One of our first actions was to hold a protest against the excessive use of force by police against Black people and to unify the community. Just three months later, Tulsa experienced its own fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man, after an officer opened fire on Terence Crutcher, a father of four who had recently celebrated his 40th birthday. Once again, we held protests calling for justice, this time in our own hometown. But the police officer in that case was acquitted at trial. She later found work again in law enforcement, as a sheriff’s deputy.
Another form of violence in our community is the number of people locked up for petty crimes or simply because they have a drug addiction. In an analysis of Tulsa police data, Black people in Tulsa were arrested at 2 to 2.5 times the rate of non-Black residents between 2012-2016. Instead of receiving rehabilitation for non-violent crimes, they often are put in one of Oklahoma’s many private prisons. These facilities operate as businesses: the more inmates they have, the more money they make. I’ve seen how this has negatively impacted youth in my congregation and in the community. Instead of their parents receiving rehabilitation, they are incarcerated, which leaves them without a mom or dad at home. It’s a terrible system that fuels recidivism.
Tulsa needs social programs that help people like youth recreation centers, vocational education, and mental health and rehabilitation services. We would be a better community if we invested in our people rather than in incarceration, which in the long run would be more cost effective.
This issue is personal for me. I experienced the criminal justice system as an inmate, including serving time in a private prison. I went from being released from incarceration to enrolling in a community college to attending Victory Bible College, where I was able to pursue my calling as a minister. I thank God that I have been able to break the vicious cycle through my faith. The time I spent as an incarcerated person is just one of the reasons why I am passionate about this work and why I’m determined to give back.
We need funding for true rehabilitation and real criminal justice reform, like ending mandatory-minimum sentencing. We also need to end cash bail, and to do away with the death penalty. Biden has promised to take all these steps but he hasn’t always been a champion of criminal justice reform. Early in his career, he embraced policies that contributed to mass incarceration. He now seems to be rectifying some of those past wrongs.
Here’s another reason I have renewed hope: In Tulsa – a city that had a racial massacre 100 years ago – our mayor last year hired our first Black chief of police. The work we did this past year paid off because I was able to sit down with the new chief a few weeks ago to discuss our concerns and develop positive solutions, so every member of our community feels safe.
The Biden Administration has shown that it is also ready to make positive change and is committed to unifying our country, which I believe can only be achieved through social justice. There is a lot of work to do, and we must keep demanding more action, but we are moving in the right direction.
Senior Pastor Mareo D. Johnson resides over Seeking the Kingdom Ministries in Tulsa. He is the founder and director of Black Lives Matter Tulsa.
“Accountability” is a word that’s often thrown around with little to no understanding of its true meaning and purpose. This has never been more true than with the recent conviction of Derek Chauvin and the dialogue around it.
When NBA superstar LeBron James responded to the conviction with one word, “ACCOUNTABILITY,” it got over 228,000 likes and over 30,000 retweets, it showed that people have lost touch with what accountability actually means.
Yes, Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, as he should have been, but this is not accountability, this is just punishment. The criminal justice system conflates these two concepts, but we cannot follow suit.
Worth a thousands words
The false equivalency between punishment and accountability has been dished-out to society through our dysfunctional justice system. We’ve been led to believe that punishment will solve all our problems, but it won’t. What makes an arbitrary number of years spent in prison equivalent to accountability? How does that right the harm that was caused?
We need to understand what accountability actually is. When used properly, true accountability can bring growth and healing, and this is what we should all strive for when harm occurs. True accountability allows us to learn from the pain we caused and break the cycle of our harmful ways. I know, because when I was 22 years old, I took a human life during a drug robbery. This led me to receive a 38 year-long prison sentence. When I first received my sentence I thought, “I deserve this. I took a life, and now I have to pay the price.” This was what I had been taught growing up in a dysfunctional system that never had my or my community’s best interest at heart.
Years went by before I realized that being accountable for my actions had nothing to do with the prison sentence I received. Being accountable was about me doing deep personal work that would help me see I needed to own the harm I had caused, and most importantly, I had to stop making excuses for my actions and acknowledge that only I was responsible for the damage.. Of course, there are mitigating factors and circumstances that lead us to live certain lifestyles – especially criminal lifestyles – nevertheless, our actions are our own and must be acknowledged as such.
When I took an individual’s life, it didn’t matter what my intentions were – whether it was an accident or self defense or a rash moment of confusion – I had chosen to do a robbery and during that robbery I had taken a human life. I needed to be accountable for that harm. I could serve a hundred life sentences, but that wouldn’t make me accountable, nor would it do anything for those I’ve harmed.
When doing the work to hold myself accountable, I found that the extremely broken criminal justice system doesn’t offer accountability, or even a path towards it. It merely offers a conviction through the law and then warehouses those convicted. That’s it. I came to the conclusion that only I, and I alone, would be able to begin the process of holding myself accountable.
I do want to acknowledge that it’s easy, after being stepped on for a lifetime, to lose sight of the end goal and mistake a conviction through the courts as accountability. Even after all my years of training as a restorative justice facilitator in accountability, I fell victim to wanting to see Derek Chauvin suffer. When they said he would be held in solitary confinement, an evil laugh escaped my lips because I have spent countless days in there and I wanted him, a cop, to feel that isolation and pain I and others have been forced to feel. However, I quickly realized that as a prison abolitionist, this isn’t what I actually want. I don’t want to accept this broken system of justice as my own.
Over the last decade, I have committed myself to understanding accountability and how to best hold myself accountable for the harm I’ve caused. I’ve learned how to do this while also taking into account those I’ve harmed: my community, my loved ones and myself. Building these skills while facing the harm I had caused didn’t happen overnight, and I’m still working on it. I will be for the rest of my life. This was the only way to begin to atone for the life-ending harm I caused in my youth.
In Derek Chauvin’s case, accountability will only come if he does the work to hold himself accountable. As a society, we can punish him, but that’s all we can do. Accountability is his responsibility. Being held responsible by someone else is much different then being held accountable by ourselves.
As a society, we need to decide: are we looking for the kind of justice and accountability that will stop police from killing people of color in our communities, or are we just willing to buy into the broken system of so-called justice that has destroyed our communities and countless lives within them?
We cannot continue to allow these racist, over-zealous cops to continue to murder people in the streets. But we also don’t want to fall victim to believing that their version of justice is the same as ours, because in the end their policing system will always target those it was designed to oppress: impoverished communities of color like the one I grew up in. We owe them and ourselves so much more.
Christopher Blackwell, 40, is incarcerated at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, Washington, and is working toward publishing a book on solitary confinement. His writing has been published by The Washington Post, HuffPost, BuzzFeed, Jewish Currents, and many other publications. He is serving a 45-year sentence. Follow Christopher on Twitter.