I’m honestly not sure where this is going to go as I put pen to paper because of the complex feelings that I’m having at this moment. I find that the only way to get clarity in thinking is through writing. So here it goes…
I’m sad. I’m furious. I’m grateful. I’m numb. And like most of America, I’m hurting.
Time and time again, we’ve watched excessive use of force often ended in the death of a black person. To my other minority friends and relatives, it’s not just black people. It can happen to any of us. Remember when an Indian grandfather was body slammed after neighbors called the police on him as he went on a walk?
We write paragraphs like above without saying the names of the victims. We talk about the latest video and tell stories about our outrage. We need to say their names. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Oscar Grant. Eric Garner. Philando Castile. Samuel Dubose. Sandra Bland. Walter Scott. Terrence Crutcher. And so many more.
These names have become another statistic. Just another data point for us to study and analyze.
I’ve heard over and over that change is hard. Be patient. And many versions that are, frankly, an excuse to do nothing.
I’m watching critical infrastructure of cities burn because their citizens are, rightly, furious. Police cars burnt. Streets wrecked. And I’m thinking who’s going to pay for that? We’re in the greatest period of economic uncertainty and these cities are nearly bankrupt. That infrastructure isn’t going to come back. And in some cases, that may be ok. Maybe we need to go in a different direction.
I’m thinking about all the photographs taken when someone opened their restaurant or shop and how proud they must have been. And now, the pictures they are going to have to take to document their losses. What will insurance cover?
How many were hurt unnecessarily last night by tear gas and rubber bullets? Do they have insurance? What will the hospital bill be? Will that bankrupt people who were trying to exercise their civil rights?
I think about my worst night in the White House after working for months on reforming police departments and community policing. We kept believing that justice would be served and yet saw officer after officer acquitted. On one of those very bleak and dark nights, I took a bottle of bourbon down to one of my friend’s office to share in our frustration. And then steeling our resolve to get back up in the morning to try again.
I remember visiting a jail in Oakland and spending time with inmates and asking them what they wanted the President to know. And their pleas for a better life so they could get their lives on track. Job training. A better world to raise their kids in. A way out of the downward spiral.
I feel the nerves of the first time addressing a room of police chiefs who wanted to make a change. Who wanted to BE the change. Their belief that we could and must do better. I remember writing this card just before talking to them for a model of how we could work together.
I remember the fury of looking through the data out of Baltimore on excessive use of force and asking why don’t we have this data made available to everyone.
There was a young data scientist that pulled me aside before a meeting on how data and technology might be able to help on community policing. He showed me data that he had cobbled together from multiple systems where he showed the rate over time of how police stopped white vs blacks and it was about equal. And then he showed me the search rates after they were stopped and they were staggering. It showed how much more likely you were to be searched if you were black. As we dug in, he showed how you could tell which officers contributed to doing the most searches and matching it to those that had the most complaints. When I showed his results to the other police chiefs they all asked how they could get that kind of data so get those officers off the streets. The chiefs didn’t have the basic data systems to know which officers were a problem.
What gets measured gets fixed. Yet, we won’t track even the basics of policing.
We wanted to also make sure that we didn’t lose good officers who are putting their lives on the line every day. How do we use data to recognize those that are doing a great job? Those that we see in video clips of buying a homeless person boots out of their own measly salary? The officer who rather than arresting a woman who shoplifted diapers for her baby, bought her diapers. The officer who did a dance off with neighborhood kids? The ones who are working to keep the streets safe.
I think about the officers I’ve talked to and their frustration about having to pay out of their own pocket for equipment like bullet proof vests because the city won’t do so. I think about the officers who have been sent out as first responders and have contracted COVID at alarming rates.
I think about all the meetings with the police unions and their asks for military gear without the necessary training. Their arguments that they need the equipment for terrorism. And working with to ensure that it wouldn’t happen.
I think about all the data scientists and technologists who volunteered their time to work on this problem. Including launching the Police Data Initiative and the Data-Driven Justice Initiative. And realize that change is possible.
And I remember the lives of good men and women who have served their community with honor and died in the line of duty. We can’t let them be a statistic either.
- DPD Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, age 48, who had been with the department since 2002.
- DPD Officer Michael Krol, 40, who had been with the department since 2007.
- DPD Sgt. Michael Smith, 55, a former Army Ranger who had been with the department since 1989.
- DART Officer Brent Thompson, 43, a former enlisted Marine[ who had been with the department since 2009. Thompson was the first officer to be killed in the line of duty since the department’s inception in 1989.
- DPD Officer Patricio “Patrick” Zamarripa,32, a former Navy sailor and Iraq War veteran who had been with the department since 2011
They all had families who loved them and it broke my heart. And it still does.
I met with police chiefs that day in the White House and I remember how afraid the families of officers were for them going out to do their job. They wanted their husbands and wives to quit rather than risk their life. Their fear was genuine. And I think about the families of officers who are out there trying to keep the streets safe. And I fear for their safety. There are many good people who have taken up this line of work to ensure we can sleep safely at night.
It’s easy to make broad generalization at times like this. We need to do better. America, we have a problem. We’ve known about it for far too long. So what are we going to do about it? Below is my list of policies that we need to accelerate action on immediately. I hope you’ll share yours too. Because we need action and we need it now.
- National database on excessive use of force: we need a national database of excessive use of force. If a department receives any federal funding they should be required to submit data daily in a machine readable format. A model for this is the Police Data Initiative.
- Transparency of police contracts: all contracts of policing should be made public. We need to remove barriers to effective conduct investigations and increase civilian oversight; ensure officers disciplinary histories accessible to the public and other departments that might hire them; and ensure financial accountability when excessive force is used. For more see Campaign Zero’s policy recommendations.
- Data-driven justice: we need more programs that end the endless cycle of incarceration. And we need more out-of-the-box thinking of programs like the Data-Driven Justice Initiative and funding needs to be established to make it a reality across the country.
- Funding to investigate domestic terrorist groups: we’ve defunded our efforts to identify groups that radicalize individuals. Our government has focused on groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, but continues to ignore home-grown terrorists including white supremacy groups.
- Technology platforms must take greater accountability: there is too much disinformation and misinformation on social media platforms. The evidence is clear that foreign groups are infiltrating and creating social groups to foster chaos and social division.
- Body cameras: While good in theory, it’s the implementation that counts. We need uniform best practices about how and when footage is made available.
- Task force on 21st century policing recommendations: We have not acted forcefully or aggressively enough on the recommendations of this group convened at the Presidential level. We should do so immediately.