My Testimony before the DC Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee

There’s at least 10 good reasons why DC Police Chief Peter Newsham has got to go

***Trigger warning: Sexual assault, police violence, toxic masculinity and whiteness***

Good morning/afternoon ChairMan Allen, Councilmember Grosso, Councilmember Gray, Councilmember Bonds, Councilmember Cheh, and staff,

My name is Brendan Orsinger and I do not like the DC Police Chief Peter Newsham.

I’m here today to remind you that the DC council voted last year on May 2nd to confirm the mayor’s nominee for chief of police, Peter Newsham. Almost all of you voted to confirm despite so many red flags. You made a decision to confirm — almost unanimously — against the adamant advice and pleas of countless numbers of witnesses and concerned citizens who raised many serious issues about Newsham’s nomination.

You made the decision to confirm after ‘Acting” Chief Newsham and his officers unconstitutionally arrested over 200 protesters and violently and unnecessarily escalating countless confrontations with nonviolent protesters throughout the day of the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2017.

You made the decision to confirm Newsham while knowing of his atrocious record of infringing on the First Amendment rights of over 400 protesters back 15 years ago at Pershing Park. His officers punished the protesters for their dissent by hogtying them with zip cuffs wrist to opposite ankle — a stress position they punitively left protesters in for over 16 hours on a gymnasium floor with no access to food or water. You also knew the taxpayer picked up the bill of $13.7 million thanks to Newsham’s toxic brand of leadership.

You made that decision while being fully aware that acting Chief Newsham was doing everything in his power to protect an officer who murdered an unarmed motorcyclist named Terrence Sterling, shooting two rounds from their service weapon into his back and neck. Newsham was so effective in protecting this murderer, that a year and half later that officer is still on paid vacation with no criminal charges. This time, Newsham’s police department cost the taxpayer $3.5 million, plus legal expenses to settle the wrongful death civil suit just last month. It’s funny how he arrests so many who dissent on a whim for exercising First Amendment rights and slap them with enough charges to put a protester away for the rest of their life for being near a broken window — while Terrence Sterling’s murderer, Officer Brian Trainer, remains free and legally unencumbered — and even still receives a paycheck from the DC government.

You knew about the violence in Newsham’s past. You knew he assaulted his ex-wife. How did you know that and still confirm him?

You knew about him being such a dangerous and unfit officer that at one point he had his service weapon confiscated after he was found passed out on the sidewalk while on duty. Do you know how much white male privilege it takes to rebound from something like that and still rise to the rank of DC Chief of Police?

You knew about the Black 11-year old rape victim and how Newsham’s detectives didn’t believe her story, so they charged HER with a crime — compounding her trauma — and never bringing her multiple rapists to justice.

Now not even a year later, you’ve learned more since you May 2, 2017 vote when you confirmed Peter Newsham as DC’s Police Chief:

Newsham’s officers wear white supremacist t-shirts to the courthouse while on official business.

Last year before Newsham gave testimony to this committee, my friend Vasu gave compelling testimony in opposition to Newsham’s confirmation. Vasu, who some of you know, is a brilliant and thoughtful lawyer, activist and local organizer. He is of Indian descent. Vasu’s testimony was compelling to the point it was referenced and posed back to Newsham in a form of question by a Judiciary committee member. As a way to rebuke Vasu’s point, Newsham falsely stated during his testimony that after talking with Vasu at a prior public forum he had provided Vasu with his business card. Newsham testified that he wished Vasu had not called him first with the concerns before giving harsh testimony. Newsham, during that nomination/confirmation period, had portrayed himself as the good guy who had made himself available to SO many people — and yes, I saw him hand out business cards to two of my other friends — just not to Vasu. I was present at forum and witnessed the entire interaction between Vasu and Newsham. No business card exchanged hands. HOWEVER, at that same event I was also present for a conversation where Newsham did hand another friend of Indian descent his business card. He seemed so certain that he confidently but falsely testified before this committee that he had given Vasu a way to reach out. In reality, he met and conversed with two Indian American men that night and confused them for the other, even though besides both being Brown skinned, they look nothing alike. This should have been a big red flag — and when we brought this concern to committee members and staff you failed to comprehend the enormity of Newsham’s marginalization of a person of color — especially since Newsham made a huge show of walking up to Vasu right after giving testimony and giving him “another” business card as you, the councilmembers, watched on. Yes, it seems innocuous at first especially for us white folks, yet when people in Newsham’s line of work — especially ones with years of policing experience — still misidentify a person of color it can often lead to unnecessary harassment, being wrongfully accused or detained, harmed, or even murdered by the police. This is something we as white folks never have to worry about personally, but something I would invite you and your committee staff to be more mindful of in the future when vetting the next police chief.

You now know about Newsham’s Twitter behaviors on a public-facing social media account: @ChiefNewsham. Newsham clearly sees the value of engaging constituents and stakeholders as a public official from his twitter account. Chief Newsham seems to see such value in this social media tool and interest in me that he took the time to read all the things that I tweeted about him (and there have been a lot) and came to the conclusion that my tweets were “cruel and nasty” enough to violate my First Amendment rights to petition my government officials. I really don’t know how to respond to his overstatements of harm — only to say that he seems to always end up centering himself and his officers as the victims in need of pity, protection, and defense — or as heros — while in reality he and his officers deserve no such labels. No matter how you look at it, Peter Newsham the Chief of Police created a public facing twitter account in August 2016 when he was being considered for the chief position. Sometime at the end of January of this year he blocked my account and those of other local DC activists. This is just another example of Chief Newsham being a liability to this city and a toxic self-centered man with no capacity to hear critical dissent and no respect for a person’s First Amendment rights. Whether it’s violation of the right to assemble or the right to petition our government for redress of grievances, Newsham’s brand of leadership is a disaster for this city’s coffers and a danger to its residents.

And are you kidding me with the MPD going in to the National Museum of African American History & Culture WEARING their uniforms?!? For god’s sake. You don’t think there were people of color and civil rights activists visiting that specific museum who may triggered or at least uncomfortable by the presence of many police in uniform with badges and guns. Surely Newsham learned something about police brutality and white supremacy and it still standing in the way of Black liberation. Surely Newsham would realize that the oppressive forces he learned of on the museum walls are still alive and well within the DC police force today. Perhaps they could go in plain clothes and without guns and badges out of courtesy to guests who live in fear of the police. Newsham may be under some delusion that the MPD is welcomed our community, but that’s a false and toxic narrative that dismisses voices of dissent and makes no space to be receptive to people with different political views on policing. It makes perfect sense why someone like him would have such disregard for the my views and that he would block my right to petition my government for redress of grievances.

Newsham showed up with his officers to this last MLK Day Parade — without invitation from the organizers — and took position right at the front of the entire Parade. They came lined-up with honor guard and motorcycles. Also, Newsham engaged in political activities while on duty and in uniform during the MLK Day Parade in the form of marching with Mayor Bowser (who is running for reelection right now) and giving away the Mayor’s green “Bowser Beads” to spectators.

Everything we have seen from Newsham leads me and many of my fellow local activists to conclude he was — and has always been — an extremely poor candidate to KEEP the job of DC Chief of Police. Thank you for your time and for not blocking me from this public forum — which would be a violation of my right to petition my government for redress of grievances — to which you now know I have many.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak and be heard.