The PuLSE Institute, a national independent anti-poverty think tank headquartered in Detroit, is hosting a national online forum with African American police chiefs to discuss reforms in policing, racial disparity in law enforcement and the need for criminal justice reform in the wake of the January 6 Capitol insurrection. The zoom forum will mark the official launch of the Chief William T. Riley Lecture Series in Police Transformation, which is named after William Riley, the police chief of the City of Inkster, who is a senior fellow at The PuLSE Institute’s Academy of Fellows, where he is focused on the intersection of criminal justice reform and poverty.
The forum, “Black Police Chiefs for Reform in the Era of the Black Lives Matter Movement,” which is open to the public will be held on Monday, February 15 from 4-6pm. The program will feature Riley, an outspoken advocate for reform who has been calling for an end to racial disparity in law enforcement, Roy Minter, the police chief of Savannah, Georgia, who has visibly expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd, and Mitchell Davis, the police chief of Hazel Crest Village, a city outside of Chicago, who has openly discussed experiencing racial bias in policing earlier in his career.
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All three Black law enforcement executives in charge of policing in the three predominantly Black cities of Inkster, Savannah and Hazel Crest Village have not been shy to speak out publicly about the need for serious changes in policing especially after the fallout from the gruesome death of Floyd under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020.
“I wear this uniform to work, but I wear this uniform every day, so of course what they’re saying and the issues that they’re dealing with of course affect me, not only as a police chief but it affects me as an African-American male. We want them to know that we are not only here to assist them, but we also support them. We realize that some things have gone on in this country that have caused people some concern, and we realize that law enforcement is the focal point of that concern right now,” Savannah police chief Minter told the media during a Black Lives Matter demonstration he participated in.
Minter also fired two officers Daniel Kang and Octavio Arango from his department last year who were involved in the use of force in detaining an individual who was mistakenly identified.
“The conduct of two members of the Savannah Police Department during this incident were totally unacceptable, egregious behavior,” Minter said.
Chief Davis in 2017 was featured in an Atlantic magazine article as among a number of Black police chiefs who can relate to the cries of the Black Lives Matter movement because of the racial biases they have experienced during their policing career.
“During his initial training, when a higher-ranking officer shadowed him on a night shift, Davis stopped a white drunk driver and was instructed to call the offender’s relative to pick him up. He later stopped a black drunk driver and was instructed to tow his car and arrest him,” the Atlantic magazine wrote.
Davis told the magazine, “I’ve seen instance after instance where these things happen.”
The Chief William T. Riley Lecture Series in Police Transformation, is created to feature top law enforcement executives from across the spectrum of the criminal justice system as well as other community stakeholders including advocates for reform discussing meaningful ways to create serious reforms in policing. The goal of the series is to emphasize the need for police officers to not only adhere to the rule of law, but respect the dignity and rights of Black people, who are routinely subjected to overbearing and humiliating law enforcement.
Chief Riley, who served as chief of police in Selma, Alabama, the cradle of the civil rights movement before coming to Michigan in 2015 to take over the once troubled Inkster Police Department has been calling for police transformation in the wake of the death of Floyd and other African Americans who have died at the hands of police officers.
For example, he has challenged other police chiefs to condemn acts of brutality whenever they are meted against innocent Black people. He has also flatly rejected the use of facial recognition technology for the Inkster Police Department, a software that is widely known to falsely identify Black and other minority victims as culprits. Because of the propensity of facial recognition technology to endanger the civil rights and civil liberties of Black people, Riley has been one of the rare leaders in law enforcement to openly express deep skepticism about the use of the technology.
With the new administration of President Joe Biden, the series will explore federal civil rights enforcement and the role of the justice system in guaranteeing that the civil rights of the victims of police misconduct are protected.
Attorney Tina M. Patterson, the president and director of research at The PuLSE Institute said the forum is part of the Institute’s commitment to police reform.
“The demand for justice is never-ending, and in this era of racial turmoil and unrest in the country, it is imperative that we push the need for change in policing practices until equitable policy is implemented,” Patterson said. “Chief William T. Riley is one such law enforcement executive who understands the need for transparency in policing and placing humanity at the center of the field. Fortunately, other police chiefs likewise share this same humanistic philosophy in policing and embrace the changes in policing that justice demands. The PuLSE Institute welcomes this rare but fresh and vital conversation.”
Bankole Thompson, the editor-in-chief of The PuLSE Institute and the dean of the Academy of the Institute’s Academy of Fellows said the forum is key to answering complex questions regarding the humanity of Black victims of police brutality. Thompson is an opinion columnist at The Detroit News, where he writes a twice-a-week column on presidential politics, culture and economic justice issues.
“Missing in the conversation about reforming policing is the viewpoint of those African American law enforcement leaders who understand that the message of the Black Lives Matter movement is real and that it is needed in today’s America to achieve racial justice,” said Thompson, the forum moderator. “Too often the perspective that tends to be the dominant narrative is of a segment of Black law enforcement executives whose perspective is sadly rooted in abject and shameful denial of the racial disparities that exists in law enforcement. This forum will show that there are Black police chiefs around the country who understand that racism in policing is not fiction and that to address it, the system is going to need a serious overhaul. We must also address the notion of color blind justice that is perpetuated by those who like to blame the Black victims of unspeakable police misconduct instead of trigger-happy cops. That is why this national dialogue is crucial especially after the storming of the Capitol by a White mob that met no resistance force and unlike the Black Lives Matter protesters who were greeted with military gears during their demonstrations after the death of George Floyd.”
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