Who Polices the Police?

It has been an awful few days in America and it is important, as my friend, Jimmy Friday, says in his reflection below, “Is it nice to look away?” In the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic, a white woman in New York City calls the police on a Black man who asked her to leash her dog. George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis for doing nothing. Like so many others, he was unarmed and cooperative. The video shows it clearly. People sometimes ask “Why is this all happening now?” I am not a historian but I’m confident it has always been happening. Now we’re just seeing it.

People often wonder what we can do in our own communities to fight against police violence, to prevent it if possible. It’s a complex problem but there is, in fact, a lot we can do. One question we can all explore is this one: Who polices the police in your community? Is there a civilian board that has the authority to review, explore, discipline police? In most cities and counties, if there is such a body, is has little funding and even less authority. But these groups can be strengthened where they exist and created where they do not exist. Rest assured that police unions often fight police accountability with everything they’ve got. And they have resources.

Here is what we can do: explore your city or county’s website and find out what kind of board, if any, exists. They are often named Citizen Advisory Boards, or Community Oversight Boards. In Maryland, I discovered there is a state law that prohibits local cities or counties from creating any kind of board that has real oversight, especially disciplinary oversight, of police departments. Even here in Washington, D.C. there is a Police Complaints Board that can get some limited information from the Metropolitan Police Department. But they can only offer guidance and advice to the mayor. This is, however, a start.

Some of the questions to ask about your local police department and its oversight include these: Are police trained in de-escalation? How often does that training take place? Are police trained in working specifically with homeless populations? Are police trained in working with mentally ill citizens? Who provides these trainings, if they exist? How frequent are they? Are they mandatory?

These are just a few thoughts about how ordinary citizens can get active in this area. It’s crucial to take one’s citizenship seriously. It’s crucial to know one’s local scene. We all pay the police department. What they do, they do in our names.

Here is a poetic reflection by my friend, Jimmy Friday. Jimmy lives in Houston, Texas and is the father of two young African American boys. The day after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis, Jimmy posted this on Facebook and it moved me. He gave me permission to share it here.

I pressed play…
Then I pressed back…
Then I pressed play again…
But I couldn’t watch it…
I… just couldn’t watch it…
He was from Houston.
He went to Jack Yates High School in the 90s…
A school not too different than mine…
He was from 3WTX… The neighborhood I now call home.
I couldn’t watch it.
I… Just couldn’t watch it…
Because #IAmGeorgeFloyd
I… Just couldn’t watch it
Because my sons are #GeorgeFloyd
We are under attack.
Two months ago, it was the McMichaels
Yesterday it was Amy Cooper
And the Minneapolis cops…
And only because there was a recording. So many times we haven’t been fortunate to have the recording.
Is it nice to look away?
To 👍 or ❤️ these posts knowing this will never happen to you or someone you love?
Is it nice to keep scrolling and only engage when I post something you disagree with?
Is it nice to be able to live without this being something you constantly think about?
If you continue to just keep scrolling…
If all you can do is 👍 or ❤️ without taking a long hard look at what YOU can do to change this, unfriend me now.


Something HAS to change. I pray we don’t lose ourselves, in the process.

Thank you, Jimmy. I will not look away.

I took the photograph at the top of this post. This mural is along the Red Line of Washington, D.C.’s Metro, near the Brookland Station in Northeast D.C. J. Ross

Published by www.JosephRoss.net

Poet & Teacher. Author of four books of poetry: Raising King (2020) Ache (2017) Gospel of Dust (2013) Meeting Bone Man (2012)

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