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Representative David Bowen adds local voice to national agenda for ending police brutality

Sixty-six young black elected officials, members of the National Black Caucus of the Young Elected Officials Network (NBC YEO), stood together recently to call for immediate actions that lead America to the ending of police violence and state-supported brutality against black people.

Following the April 4 police killing of Saheed Vassell, and the brutal murder of Stephon Clark by police just two weeks ago, the National Black Caucus of the Young Elected Officials Network (YEO Network) has released a new police brutality agenda for the nation in an open letter to Donald Trump, California elected officials, and their peers nationwide. The letter, signed by young black elected officials, calls for a joint approach to police brutality and gun violence, twin ills that are destroying lives of far too many young people of color.

“Police in Brooklyn needlessly kiIIed Saheed Vassell, a mentally ill man who was well known in his community,” said Svante Myrick, mayor of Ithaca and head of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Official Network. “Two weeks ago, Stephon Clark was murdered in his own backyard. This violence won’t stop unless we make it stop, by demanding more accountability and a change in the way we police. Today, young black elected officials are coming together to say never again to police brutality, just as last week we said never again to gun violence.”

As elected officials, the black caucus members collectively represents over two million residents, and police officers of integrity who live and work in constant fear of police violence and a lack of accountability. The group noted that the substandard service is paid for with public tax dollars, and leads to the unfair treatment of black citizens.

“We have all come together to say ‘enough’ to losing black lives in our communities. Wisconsin has seen the strain of police violence. It’s in the nation and state’s interest to end this violence in our communities because Black families cannot afford this misstep,” said David Bowen, a Wisconsin state legislator from Milwaukee.

Key national demands from local black elected officials include:

  • A national push at all levels of government to prosecute police misconduct.
  • A national push for more systemic investigations when agencies are suspected of engaging in “pattern or practice” violations and discrimination.
  • An end to “broken windows” policing and “stop and frisk” policies that endanger the lives of young men of color.

Recommendations for local governments include:

  • Local prosecutors need to create civil rights units dedicated to investigating and prosecuting police misconduct fairly, transparently and independently.
  • State attorneys general need to provide recommendations and guidelines for local prosecutors and investigators of misconduct to ensure police accountability.
  • We need mayors to appoint police chiefs who prioritize building trust with communities, de-escalation, and life preserving trainings and protocol, and support alternative mental health intervention.

Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales of Portsmouth specifically called on fellow prosecutors to take action: “From Saheed Vassell to Stephon Brown, what is happening across our country right now does not reflect a just America for all. As prosecutors, we hold the power of law in our office and with that comes a heavy responsibility. I urge my fellow prosecutors across the country to show our nation that we value every single one of our constituents, including the lives of people of color, by prosecuting crimes by police officers against them. When we were elected to be public servants, we took our oaths with the understanding that the tasks ahead would not always be easy. Fighting for justice must always be at the forefront and we must strive to always do what is right for our people no matter how uncomfortable or trying the road may be.”

“Even with reform, even with new policy and procedure, we have to bring police officers on the force that are committed to the sanctity of human life,” said Lateefah Simon, BART Board of Directors member from Oakland, California.

The open letter called for the safety and protection of the public while sustaining the civil rights for Americans of color, which should be the primary concern and duty of law enforcement officials. The black caucus also condemned what it felt was the abdication of federal oversight, urging the Department of Justice to restore its commitment to fixing broken policing.

“Police brutality is a national issue,” said Baltimore City Council Member Brandon Scott on the call. “President Trump’s comments to the contrary, that this is just a local issue, are disrespectful. If we are truly going to solve this, we need the Department of Justice to invest nationally in body camera technology and law enforcement training.”

The Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network is a nonpartisan program of People For the American Way Foundation. It is the first and only national initiative to provide a network of support to the newest generation of progressive leaders at every level of elected office.

© Photo

People For the American Way Foundation / Travis Long and David Bowen

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