Now what?

The past two days have been a roller coaster. From the events at Marketplace Mall to the single-largest peaceful demonstration in C-U in multiple generations, we’ve all probably experienced something on the spectrum from heartbreaking to proud in the past 50 hours.

Yesterday’s protest was the proudest I’ve ever been of C-U in my quarter-century of living around here. To see 1000-plus people in the street asking for change, and getting buy-in from Mayors Feinen and Marlin and Chiefs Cobb and Seraphin, was unprecedented.

At the same time, the kneeling of police and the solidarity of the Mayors is purely symbolic. It’s not enough. It can’t be. It can only be a start. These gestures make our hearts swell, and while that’s a net positive (and necessary), it only lays the foundation for reform in the future. True reform will come when citizens’ concerns are taken into account to guide policy.

So what do we do now, C-U? We have apparent buy-in from our institutions. Now we need to demand tangible change from them. If they are truly invested in their community, they will listen. If not, we can vote them out of office.

Campaign Zero, a research consortium that studies police violence, has collected data on what policies effectively curb police violence, and also which policies have little-to-no effect. These are real world policies that our cities can implement, and they can do it quickly. I don’t think these will be a panacea; I’m not a policy expert, but a data-driven approach can inform common sense legislation incredibly easily.

You should really read the whole list, but here are a few examples of actions that C-U could take right now:

Community Oversight:

Both Champaign and Urbana have citizen boards who review use-of-force. They could always be strengthened or expanded.

Use of Force:

Review use-of-force guidelines for all departments and make it clear use-of-force is an absolute last option. The Champaign use-of-force guidelines, revised in 2016, do not make it clear that lethal force is a last resort option. This must be solidified.

We also need independent (NOT Illinois State Police) investigations of all instances where police murder or seriously injure someone. We cannot trust the police, state or local, to police themselves. That’s common sense. Urbana has taken these steps very recently in regards to a case from this Spring. It should be the rule, not the exception.

Thoughtful Responding:

Establish a subset of mental health first responders. It’s having amazing success in Eugene, Oregon, a similarly-sized college town.

End Obvious Profit-Driven Broken Window Policing Practices:

Like this. And this.

Sign Fair Police Union Contracts:

Remember Matt Rush? He was a Champaign Police Officer who had repeatedly been reprimanded for excessive force. The reason Rush couldn’t be fired easily, despite clearly being an agent of violence, was because of bad police union contracts. Chief Cobb tried to fire him. Twice.

The entire Matt Rush saga cost the City of Champaign $620,000 in lawsuit settlements.

Make it easier to fire bad cops, not harder.

Demilitarize:

There is plainly no reason for the police in C-U to have so much military equipment. It breeds distrust and encourages the wrong actions. 

Most police really shouldn’t even carry a gun on their hip, but that’s a larger problem with American society.

####

There are a seemingly-infinite amount of steps we could take to address police brutality. These are just a few that are locally relevant, could be done relatively quickly, and have been statistically shown to work. But in order for any of this to make a difference, our governments need to listen and act. After yesterday, I’m optimistic that they will.

Featured photo from Kevin Lighty / WCIA