Visions by Sondra Jackson

Who is policing CMPD?

By Kendrea Mekkah Collins

North Carolina currently ranks 6th in the nation – with 27 People killed by police this year, according to The Counted. The legislature implementing policies like the recent HB972, restricting citizens from reviewing police body and dash-cam video footage is only one example of how calls for police transparency and community oversight are being ignored. Charlotte CMPD is not living up to the directives established in the Civil Liberties Resolution or the guidelines of the President’s Council on 21st Century Policing which it likes to brag about being a member of.

Charlotte has a long history of police killings, yet Randell Kerrick – who killed Jonathan Ferrell in 2013 – was the first CMPD officer in 30 years to face charges for excessive force. The dash-cam footage was a huge factor in that case, and shortly after there was an outcry for reforms to the Charlotte Citizen Review Board, and CMPD policy and directives.

Visions by Sondra Jackson
PHOTO CREDIT: Visions by Sondra Jackson

SAFE Coalition NC worked with the community to pass the Civil Liberties Resolution which led the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department to change policy directives around arbitrary profiling, de-escalation, search and seizure and how to handle protest. We have yet to see this policy translated into practice. Three years later, the community literally had to riot to get dash-cam and body-cam footage released.

In the aftermath of protest and national outcry over Keith Lamont Scott’s murder, we must be mindful that there are many more cases that fell below the radar. When the national media leaves and Charlotte returns to “business as usual,” who will hold Charlotte City Council and CMPD accountable?

Although the lack of police oversight and accountability disproportionately affects African-Americans, this is not just a black problem. When the powers of law enforcement go unchecked, all citizens feel the ramifications. In August, another person with a disability, Daniel Harris (Deaf) was killed by State Troopers here in Charlotte. De-escalation and dealing with people with disabilities is a persistent issue.

Broken promises and a lack of accountability are only fueling the fire around Police brutality. When people participate in government and their civil servants fail to live up to their end of the bargain, trust is broken, and righteous indignation builds like steam in a pressure cooker. The recent unrest in Charlotte is the trill sound of a city collectively letting off steam.

After fighting for change and seeing it ignored, Charlotte is desperately in need of the kind of lasting change that can prevent future incidents. SAFE Coalition NC helped write and lobbied for the State Prohibition of Discriminatory Profiling Bill (H193).

That legislation would have allowed all cities in NC to establish citizen review boards empowered with subpoena power, investigative power and the power to discipline officers. Standards would have been set on what is considered discriminatory profiling and required training on interactions with people with disabilities.

H193 would have required all law enforcement to uniformly report homicide data (justified and unjustified) and to share the data with the public annually. In addition, it would also have established state commissions to oversee all police training, promulgate rules around training and issue yearly reports on the training of police officers, state troopers, sheriff deputies, private security and neighborhood watch programs.

The Legislature decided not to allow H193 to be heard at all but rushed to pass HB972 instead.  HB972 requires a court order to release “law enforcement video” and went into effect on October 1, 2016. It was endorsed by every major law enforcement organization in the state of North Carolina: The N.C. Fraternal Order of Police, N.C. Police Benevolent Association, and the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys.

In the wake of Mr. Scott’s murder there have been petitions for the dismantling of CMPD, and Chief Putney’s resignation, and several boycotts have been proposed. SAFE Coalition NC stands with the community and the DOJ in demanding that CMPD release all footage leading up to the death of Keith Lamont Scott. We also call for Charlotte City Council and CMPD to enact the polices laid out in the Civil Liberties Resolution. Charlotte’s citizens are dying for change, and demanding better for their children.



SAFE Surveys and charlotte residents thoughts on safety

Activist/ artist Bree Newsome, who is a West Charlotte resident who works in coalition with SAFE around issues of police accountability and advocating for victims of police brutality. Regarding the progress of the Harm Free Zone over the past few months she said “Police have become the catch-all for a host of issues that emerge when cities divest from historically segregated, predominantly Black and Latino/a neighborhoods. Using police and the penal system as a solution for everything only creates more problems. That’s why we are committed to developing new solutions at a grassroots level, led by the community members themselves.”

Some Interesting SAFE Survey data
{Photo: Bree Newsome} Like most cities, in Charlotte we struggle for transparency and accountability when it comes to the police department. We’ve made some progress in gaining more oversight powers for the local citizens’ review board, but …the responsibility ultimately lies with the city, county and state to address larger systemic issues like the lack of affordable housing, living wages, funding for public education and access to proper mental healthcare.

We are currently conducting a citywide survey to assess what issues residents feel most concerned about. Before identifying a particular neighborhood to focus on — and that decision will be made at a later time in consensus agreement with community members– we’re first looking to see what issues residents identify as top priorities where they live. We then want to analyze the data according to location to see what patterns, if any, emerge.

We’re also collecting some basic demographic data to analyze results by age, gender identity, etc. We’ve already done some data sampling that shows significant differences in responses among age groups. It is interesting that when asked among several options, whether people had:
1) Been the victim of a violent crime they reported to the police
2) Been the victim of a violent crime they had not reported to the police.
Respondents were allowed to choose as many options as applied to them. An equal number of people responded “yes” to both 1 & 2.

This seems to reflect a general distrust of police, that people are as likely to not call the police as they are to call them. However, it could also reflect crimes occurring in the home that family members don’t report, such as domestic violence. We want to collect more data and also hold larger community conversations to get the best sense possible of what community members feel are the most urgent concerns around issues of safety.


Regarding the term “Community Policing”


“Community-Police Relations” I find it problematic for the same reason I find the term “race relations” problematic. It’s a euphemism used to soften the reality of the issue. You often find politicians using the term “race relations” instead of “racism” or “white supremacy” because “race relations” makes it sound like the issue of racism in America is neither systemic nor one-sided. It seeks to soften the reality. “Race relations” implies that the problem isn’t America’s long history of systemic racism and white supremacy, but rather an issue of how different races interact with each other. It creates a false equivalency between systemic racism which we know to be a fact of life in America and those who are oppressed by it. It implies that there’s a shared responsibility in racial tensions being what they are and that’s simply not true.

1322895927834667047“Community-police relations’ serves the same function. Politicians use this term instead of “police brutality” or “police accountability” which more accurately describes the issue. The problem isn’t how communities feel about the police, the problem is the documented history both past and present of police behaving abusively toward Black communities and facing no accountability for it. “Community police relations” implies that there’s an equivalence between police brutalizing people without consequence and communities feeling negatively toward police because of this brutalization. But there’s no balance of power whatsoever between police forces which are weaponized and have the full backing of the most powerful nation on earth and the communities that have been oppressed for decades by these very institutions.


Police and Community Violence

This week a crowd gathered in Marshall Park for a candlelight vigil to mark the 3-year anniversary of the death of Jonathan Farrell. Communities of color across the country are familiar with these scenes where survivors and surviving family members are faced once again with their grief. Whether in person, via broadcast or social media, we remember where we were when we heard the news, and how we felt in the aftermath. From Charlotte to Chicago we are filled with more questions than faith in a fractured justice system, but “the system” isn’t the only problem.

Source: Washington Post


The current statistics on police violence against people of color can lead you to question whether there is actually a bias at all. However most are based on a small sampling of a few cities, so they cannot be expected to reflect the entire country. Also there is no national standard for recording homicides and brutality perpetrated by police, so it is difficult to get accurate number on the account of how many people are actually affected by police violence. In the past few years, cell phone and body camera recordings validate President Obama’s sentiment that “we are not making this up.”

In contrast, statistics are very clear that “black on black” crime continues to threaten our safety as well. While the term “black on black crime” causes discomfort for some, the real disservice is using that term to justify the lack police accountability. I asked Temako Williams – whose son LeReko Williams was tasered to death by CMPD – weather the real threat was the police or violence against each other. “Everybody wanna point the finger, nobody wanna take the blame,” she said before expressing frustration with “seasonal protesters” chanting “black lives matter.”  “Until you live by the words that you want everybody to walk down the street and chant, shut up,” Ms. Williams says.

© 2016 Roper Center, Cornell University

She also feels that one of the biggest problems is that police are emboldened knowing that they will not be prosecuted. She says that giving local police officers immunity is “a slap in the face” to mothers like her who have lost their children. “There is no amount of money” that can bring them back, and in the few cases where officers are found guilty in a civil suit, “adds insult to injury” knowing that the officer “can still go get a job someplace else.” Ms. Willaims finds it hard to have a sense of safety when an officer can be found guilty in civil court and be able to apply for another job in law enforcement. Also “if an officer is found guilty on the civil side”, she said “it should be left up to a jury” to decide if the officer should be allowed to carry a firearm.

When an incident happens that inspires protest, we need more than hash tags to remind us of our desire for justice. We can’t allow our resolve to dissolve into the crowds as we leave vigils and churches. We cannot put down or principles with protest signs, and expect the problems to fix themselves. We owe it to ourselves and the countless victims of state sponsored violence to gather in search of a solution, in the same numbers and with the same passion that we gather to express our rage a grief. We are sustaining the struggle for parity with our conversations about building safer communities and thank everyone who has joined us at our meetings and events identify and eliminate harm from our communities.


Going beyond policing to create SAFE Communities in Charlotte, NC

Late last year, in an attempt to address the rising crime rates, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and Charlotte City Council discussed creating “public safety zones,” or “exclusionary zones”.  These “zones” would basically make certain neighborhoods off limits to people with past arrests. The proposal was largely viewed as an attempt by law enforcement to restrict the free movement of citizens and was eventually struck down due to opposition from residents.

safe-nc-month1SAFE Coalition NC and our community partners are proud of this small victory, but we realize that simply opposing attempts to over-police our neighborhoods will not fix the problem of violence. From the Civil Liberties Resolution to the reforming the Citizens Review Board, our coalition has been building people power. We know from experience that for lasting change to happen, it’s not enough to change policies, we must also change hearts and minds.

About a year ago, we began having conversations about restorative justice and what that would look like in Charlotte. Building on the model used by Critical Resistance in NYC and Spirit House in Durham, we began tweaking and adapting the Harm Free Zone concept. Then we called on the expertise of Dr. David Campt who has done extensive work on race relations, including working with the White House. SAFE Coalition NC developed a community engagement plan, identified key program elements, and interviewed local leaders. Now, we are finally ready for the most important piece of the puzzle: YOU! We need your support and commitment for real change to occur.

safe-nc-revmackHarm Free Zone is a concept that is community-owned and revolves around residents taking the lead in identifying and preventing harm. This is a broad term but the framework has helped transform other communities that were experiencing similar struggles. We recognize that there are many ways to solve our problems; the beauty of the Harm Free Zone framework is that it is based on some solid core principles, but communities can create their local project in a number of different ways. The Charlotte project has already chosen to create the Charlotte program around three core pillars: (1) empowering families and individuals, (2) changing community norms, and (3) changing institutional practices and behaviors.

The Harm Free Zone model is about black people becoming more accountable for themselves and their own community. The Charlotte project focuses resources and efforts on a particular community in order to eliminate/mitigate the sources of harm and whatever harm there may be. Rev Corine Mack, one of the main organizers, has explained, “This is about identifying problems and finding solutions. It’s about how do we begin to create jobs in our community? How do we become self-sufficient in our community? How do we have mindfulness and wellness in our communities? So there’s a whole host of things that we are trying to accomplish.”

HFZ Meeting picReforming police practices and demanding police accountability is important – and the institutional change component of the project acknowledges that. But this project is also grounded in the knowledge that as black folks, we must also create accountability mechanisms in our communities that are beyond the police force. With this project, Charlotte residents will decide how to address community norms, such as how we interact with law-enforcement and each other; community members will also be encouraged to consider what conflict resolution skills might be widely spread in the community to help crime and violence. In our recent interview, Dr. Campt expressed his shock that conflict resolution skills (which he has taught to children and adults) are “underutilized in our schools and society in general.”

Dr. David Campt
Dr. David Campt

He went on to explain that in many cases, police are not receiving effective training on how to deescalate situations either. Thus, says Campt, “The lack of conflict resolution skills is not just a problem in the black community.” While we expect that elements of police community relations will be a part of this project, the community will need to decide how much emphasis they wish to put on policing. In the words of Dr. Campt, “They might just decide that as important as this is, there are other institutional gaps that are more important, and that would not be unreasonable.” Through trainings on conflict resolution, leading peer-to-peer discussions on institutional racism and implicit bias, we want to help residents become more socially conscious and demonstrate their commitment to transforming themselves and their neighborhoods.

safe-co-meetingWe have to be the example, especially for younger people on how we interact and resolve problems. The next leadership meeting is August 11, we invite you to come out and be a part of transforming Charlotte. A few members will share videos about why they decided to be a part of this process and why they want to commit to a harm free zone. Please stay tuned to our website and blog for further details on the location and time. The African-American community in Charlotte has achieved great things by working in solidarity. This project intends to prove that we don’t need outside forces to prevent harms from happening, to address problems when they arise, and to transform our community toward one that fosters more healing.

kendrea-mekkahKendrea Mekkah

Multimedia Journalist – Digital Designer – Poet