The People Will Hold The Police Accountable
The Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Budget Oversight Hearing had a shocking turnout. Though dry, these budget hearings usually have a dozen or so community members registered to testify. However, ahead of this hearing they received 500 registrations and over 15,000 testimonies.
The community response wasn’t so surprising in the national context. George Floyd’s murder had gone viral two weeks before, and people took their anger and grief to the streets. Mayor Bowser enacted a 7 pm curfew and hours before, protestors were accosted with tear gas and flash bangs. Even though the MPD are not allowed to “kettle” (trap) protestors, police overlooked this mandate, forced people to seek shelter in private homes on Swann Street, and waited overnight to arrest them.
The call to defund the police was not novel to me. I remember weeks earlier idly noting that with the need expanding and revenue base contracting under COVID, many municipalities would have to revise their budgets, and the police department was a good place to start. What was new was the moment. Suddenly we all recognized the same message: The MPD couldn’t be reformed. It had to be defunded.
I was number 80 of the 90 people testifying, so I listened to dozens of powerful testimonies before my own: the sexual assault victim who was harassed by police officers; the teacher holding back tears who described taking his students to a protest, only to have them be profiled, brutalized and jailed.
Throughout the testimonies the stories of three men killed in five weeks was repeated over and over again until it felt unbearable. A grieving family, looking for answers, asked for body cam footage and the police first demanded an exorbitant fee and then required consent from the dead man in the video. One man, barely holding back his fury, confessed that he had prepared a statement, but overheard staffers describing this hearing as a “release valve” for the community. DC communities have clearly stated that the MPD must be defunded in countless emails, petitions, and protests in the weeks since the hearing, proving just how wrong the staffers were.
As an elected body representing this district, the DC Council’s budgets and laws should reflect DC values: we are a people that believe in the value of community and making sure that everyone is able to fully exist in that community. When the police criminalize and physically harm teenagers for goofing around on the Metro or exercising their civil rights, they undermine kids’ first interaction with the broader community. When the police ignore the needs of crime victims and then work to further victimize those people, they alienate those who need community the most. When the police flout regulations like the Sanctuary Values Act in order to enact their own personal vendettas against undocumented members of our community, they prove that they are unaccountable to the community as a whole.
What was new was the moment. Suddenly we all recognized the same message: The MPD couldn’t be reformed. It had to be defunded.
The morning of the hearing, I learned of the death of Toyin Salau, a Nigerian-American activist like me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how she was fighting for her community, and how her community deeply failed her: failing to prevent her sexual assaults, her housing insecurity, and ultimately, her murder. With thoughts of Toyin in mind, I couldn’t help connecting that community’s failures to how the arbitrary limits the DC Council had placed on speaker registration had blocked street vendors and representatives from BLM DC — the most directly affected members of our community — from testifying. I knew that when it was my turn to speak, I had to name the people who weren’t at the table. I was delighted when instead of the man who was scheduled to speak before me, I saw a core organizer from BLM DC ready to give a fire testimony to defund the MPD. My community was at work, subverting the rules, making sure that no one would be failed or forgotten.
We remain committed to each other and to abolishing the MPD. In the end, the Council and the Mayor are accountable to DC communities, and we won’t forget if they fail to defund the police. If the DC Council doesn’t hold the police accountable, the people will.
Jennifer Amuzie is a church girl and an organizer with Sanctuary DMV and the ICE out of DC Coalition. She’s proud to be an editor for Up, Up with Liberation!