This weekend, civil rights groups are holding the first-ever national conference on police brutality and police misconduct, taking place in New York City. The conference was organized by the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-sponsored by groups ranging from Amnesty International and the United Church of Christ to design ways to combat police misconduct and construct ways of achieving accountability.
Van Jones believes that police lawlessness and violence has become a national crisis, exacerbated by increased weaponry available to the police and decreased judicial oversight on part of the courts. One of the many critical cases is the in-custody death of Aaron Williams in 1995, an African American suspect in a $50 burglary who was beaten, stomped and pepper-sprayed and left to die in a police van by police officer, Mark Andaya, who is a known racist and has killed two African American men in his career. Jones’ group’s effort to get Mark Andaya fired has exposed an incredible level of police corruption in San Francisco, despite the liberal reputation of the city. The community mobilization to have Andaya removed from the San Francisco police force is a broad movement. Jones believes that this movement is indicative of how a community can organize all colors and classes of people to address issues of police misbehavior and brutality. Jones expects on May 7th to get Andaya fired by the Police Commission. Loretta Renford also shared her stories of six in custody deaths in Buffalo in the past three years and the lack of seriousness from the police department to do anything about it in bringing justice to the victims and the families. Among issues of importance, she included addressing the documentation of deaths associated with pepper spray (which usually goes undocumented), requiring heavy penalties be given to officers, including having their pensions taken away and being fired. Ronald Hampton, a black police officer in Washington DC for 22 years, retired, doesn’t have any sympathy or empathy for those officers who are not doing the right thing. These abusive individuals may be a small percentage of the total police force but there must be a system for getting abusive officers off the force. Good police officers need to report bad police officers. The public should also be actively involved in getting to know their officers to create linkages of accountability. Renford and Hampton both believed that the role of police unions should be considered and that there should be an investigation of these organizations as well as an effort to get greater accountability from them.
Van Jones, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in California
Ronald Hampton, Executive Director for the National Black Police Association
Loretta Renford, co-founder and director of public relations for Concerned Citizens against Police Abuse based in Buffalo, New York