In order to address systemic racism in policing, the role police play in our society needs to change. A model of policing should be created that ends racial disparities, brings added transparency to the work of all police departments, ensures accountability for officers who violate departmental policies and constitutional norms, and achieves real justice.
That means we must reorder our budget priorities at the state and local level by significantly reducing budgets for policing and reinvesting those funds in programs that have been consistently underfunded in Black and non-Black communities for decades, including schools, housing, economic opportunity and healthcare.
Virginia laws and police policies and practices that do not value transparency, accountability and justice for the Black community need to change. Black activists and community members must be at the table whenever laws, policies or procedures that directly impact them are being considered by state or local policymakers. We must ensure that a racial justice lens is brought to bear on any proposed legal or systemic change so that the results are equitable and redress and repair the harm done by our punitive and racially biased approach to public safety to Black people and communities of color. Immediate and permanent solutions are needed to dismantle centuries-old systemic racism in policing and the criminal legal system. This will require local changes and statewide legislation.
Here are some of the changes we want to see:
- We must reduce funding to the police and significantly reduce the scale and scope of policing in Virginia. We must reimagine the role of policing in our Commonwealth and make changes in state and local budgets that divest resources from policing and reinvest those resources in public education, health care, mental health care, housing, economic opportunity and other services that are preventative rather than punitive in nature.
- We must stop tolerating a system of policing in Virginia that has been allowed to kill Black people and people with mental illness without consequence or accountability. We need to change the state law that allows individual officers to engage in serious misconduct that results in bodily harm or death without professional or personal consequences. We must take action to empower and fund a specialized, statewide team of investigators and prosecutors, independent from any state or local law enforcement agency, that can investigate and prosecute law enforcement personnel who engage in or allow criminal acts that result in death or serious injury. We must change policies that extend legal immunity to law enforcement officers who do harm and the departments that employ them and limit the ability of local governments to respond to their communities.
- We must have transparency. We cannot continue to have laws that hide from the public the misconduct of people charged with keeping us safe. We must require transparency from law enforcement by making all departmental policies as well as critical police activity data open and accessible to the public. Findings in police discipline or decertification actions should be public information, just as is the case with outcomes (after due process) of lawyer discipline actions.
- We must stop unnecessary and unconstitutional interactions between police and communities of color. We must find and establish alternatives for prosecution of low-level non-serious offenses that needlessly insert police presence in situations where community intervention would better serve public safety. We need to rethink what we call a crime and reimagine how we respond to community and public health issues. We shouldn’t be sending the police when somebody has a mental health crisis. We shouldn’t be asking the police to address homelessness by arresting people for vagrancy or trespass. We shouldn’t be addressing substance abuse disorder by trying to criminalize our way out of it. We should be taking money from police used to fuel this punitive approach and reinvest it in public health, social services, housing, mental health and education programs, i.e., the programs that address the underlying problems and provide reparations to the Black and brown communities that have been harmed by our punitive law enforcement approach.
Communities should not rely on law enforcement agencies to produce revenues for the general fund budget nor should law enforcement agencies look to fines and forfeitures as budget supplements that allow the purchase or acquisition of military-style equipment or surveillance technologies. Trust in those who are supposed to serve and protect us requires transparency and accountability. There should be civilian oversight, statewide uniformity among body-worn camera policies, targeted use of surveillance technology (e.g., stingrays, automated license plate readers, facial recognition, etc.), and policies that promote de-escalation and limit the use of force in police encounters with individuals.