Op-ed: We cannot wait until 2018 to achieve police accountability and reform

Within 48 hours in early July, five Black and Brown men were killed by police officers across the country: Anthony Nunez, Alton Sterling, Pedro Villanueva, Dylan Noble, and Philando Castile. Every 24 hours, new names are added to the list of police brutality, names becoming hashtags like another check on the board for who fell victims of police brutality. It has been three years since the Black Lives Matter movement began, and Black lives being murdered rather than protected by the police has become normalized.

The phenomenon of police brutality has evolved, as we now bear witness to these injustices through videos. However, even the lenses of cameras capturing the victim’s last words and breath don’t provide justice. It has become a cycle; we see killings, officers go free, we protest, another name and video emerges, we click share.

People are tired of sharing names, watching videos of Black bodies shedding blood, and protesting the streets repeating the same “Black Lives Matter” chant. I am tired of walking the streets supporting my Black and Brown siblings only to soon hear the two words that bring grief and turmoil: not guilty. It is time to not only rely on our voices and bodies to make a statement, but to use our writings and knowledge to reform policies. It is up to Black and Brown people to undo the injustices of the police state, because at this point, where our lives are at stake, there is no choice.

As a Police Review Commissioner for the City of Berkeley, I found that my voice mattered. The title “Commissioner” carries a privilege where I can dialogue with officers without the fear of being shot; the title is my bullet-proof vest. I utilized this privilege, even whistleblowing Berkeley police as a result of an intimidating ride along. Returning to the commission this summer I am pursuing what I started last year; holding Berkeley Police accountable.

As the number of police killings rise, it is up to cities to hold their officers accountable. Oakland’s Police Department sex scandal has prompted a ballot measure to replace their Citizens’ Police Review Board with a police commission in order to rebuild the bridges burned down by the police. San Francisco’s Police Commission recently approved a use-of-force policy that stresses minimal force during police encounters. Berkeley trails behind the Bay Area. The Black Lives Matter protest in December 2014 that ended in infamous nights of tear gas and excessive beatings has yet to result in officers being held accountable.

The Berkeley’s Police Review Commission ordinance has not been updated in over 40 years. In fact, when the commission was passed in 1973, it was badly weakened by a lawsuit that took away most of its powers. It is time to get those powers back.

A new proposed ordinance with new policies is set to be discussed at the July 19 Berkeley City Council meeting at 7 p.m. As presently drafted, the proposed ordinance would allow the commission to hire and fire the Chief of Police, have the authority to suggest discipline to the Chief and City Manager, have access to an independent counsel, and strengthen community engagement.

If this item fails on July 19, Berkeley will not have the opportunity to reform the Police Review Commission Charter until a 2018 ballot measure. As a result, communities of color will continue to suffer from police misconduct, especially racial profiling. The Berkeley Police Department’s own statistics show that when Blacks are stopped by police, they are searched 22% of the time, where whites are searched only 7% of the time, a discrepancy of more than three to one. Even worse, the excessive search of Blacks brings no corresponding “yield,” that is, evidence, contraband, or weapon, that justifies the police action. In other words, Blacks are far more likely to be stopped by Berkeley police, and the stop is more likely to be for no reason. Berkeley, which once was a leader of free speech and progressive policing, is falling behind in police accountability.

We cannot wait until 2018 to achieve police accountability and reform. We have waited too long, seen too many people deprived of their constitutional rights, and shouted too loud for our voices to be silent.


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Bulmaro Vicente is a Police Review Commissioner for the City of Berkeley, a member of the UCPD Police Review Board, and an ASUC Senator at UC Berkeley.