Letter to the editor: by Reverend James C. Simmons
Last summer the Coalition for Police Reform released a report that confirmed what black ministers have preached about for decades: police misconduct is a real issue in Rochester, New York. While the report shares the horrific experiences of men and women like Benny Warr, Robinn Turner, Hayden Blackman, Russell Davis, Kerry Coleman, Lawrence, Rogers Lentorya Parker, and others, each week I also hear other stories of men and women who have experienced police misconduct in some form or another. For example, I hear the stories of persons detained because police contend their brake bulb is blown or burned out, but when that person arrives home, he or she discovers their brake lights work. I hear stories of black and brown children who have been arrested because there were not bells on their bike. Or I hear stories of people who were harassed, sworn at, called out of their name, or detained on fake accusations or just because he or she “fits the description.”
Since the election of Mayor Warren, tremendous strides have been made to improve the tattered relationship between police and people in Rochester, New York. Some of these efforts include the implementation of body worn cameras, the return of a five-section patrol model, the creation of Clergy on Patrol, and the recruitment of police candidates that reflect the diversity of city.
But even with these valuable and much-needed improvements, how can one trust an institution that refuses to hold offenders accountable for their misdeeds? How can one trust an institution where, in the words of Ida B. Wells, “those who commit the murders write the report?” How can one trust an institution where all of the officers who beat, pepper-sprayed, and tased Rickey Bryant were exonerated, or where the officers who beat David Vann while handcuffed were not held accountable, or where officers who commit other unacceptable crimes are often promoted?
We need an independent Police Accountability Board that can issue subpoenas, has investigative powers, can impose discipline based on a matrix, and can recommend policies that will improve the Rochester Police Department in order to restore the trust between people and police. MLK declared in his 1963 March on Washington Speech, “we can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” In the same manner we should never be satisfied until, “justice rolls down like the waters (Amos 5:24a)” and an independent police accountability board is created in the City of Rochester.
Rev James Simmons is Senior Pastor of Baber AME Church in Rochester