By Doug Arbetter
Putting pressure on our elected officials and forcing them to engage in discussion and debate on policy related to police funding, conduct, accountability, and oversight, is one of the most pressing matters of our time. The lives of Black people and other People of Color depend on it. The unjust murder of George Floyd was not the first committed at the hands of the police, and unfortunately, it will not be the last. But there are alternative ways of governing and policing that we know can reduce police violence. The City of Worcester, and it’s police force (among other government institutions), are not immune from the toxic waste of systemic racism that we have all ingested. Just because we have consumed system racism, doesn’t mean we as individuals, especially White individuals, are “racist.” It means that our government, private, and social institutions have been constructed in an interconnected way that has systematically disenfranchised Black people, and elevated White people over all others. Since the very founding of our nation. Ending systemic racism won’t be accomplished through petitioning the City Council. It will take a massive effort of social reform, that will undoubtedly take decades.
Moreover, in Public Health, there’s a philosophy that we call “Harm Reduction.” It’s the idea that we approach health issues resulting from harmful behaviors with an understanding that outlawing the harmful behaviors, or required abstinence policies, are wholly ineffective and often lead to other problems; and therefore we should embrace methods that can mitigate the behaviors and the harm it causes. In the context of the Police, we cannot magically eliminate systemic and subconscious racism. We can ban chokeholds, excessive use of force, etc, all we want. But the problem we’ve witnessed is that in the absence of accountability, the police have felt emboldened to commit violence regardless of what they are allowed, or not allowed, to do.
For the June 30th City Council meeting, I submitted three petitions to the City Council in the spirit of Harm Reduction. The goals of these petitions are to enact meaningful and diverse public oversight of police conduct, to ensure individuals with a history of violence aren’t hired as police officers, and finally, to understand if our current hiring policies actively favor White applicants. It is important to note, that I was unaware at the time of submitting the first petition that leaders in the Black community are putting together their own recommendation relating to a Citizen Review Board. Therefore, I yield to those leaders, and believe their recommendations should be heeded.
As the public, the entity in which police officers swear to protect and serve, we have an inherent right to know the criminal backgrounds of those who are hired as police officer. Furthermore, we have an inherent right to know and review on-the-job accusations of misconduct, and other acts unbecoming. Our City Councilor must act.