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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Rioting Is Not The Answer

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on September 8, 2020

Rioting has never been the answer to police violence. Today, rioting seems to be the knee-jerk response in many American cities when men and women of color are the victims of senseless police violence. This response is wrong and counter-productive.

Police violence against blacks has been a problem in America since the days of slavery. It has been rampant, ugly and brutal throughout our nation’s history. Police violence against blacks was particularly vicious during the Jim Crow era from 1880 to 1963. It eased a little bit during the civil rights era from 1964 to 1983. It came roaring back in the new Jim Crow era from 1984 to the present.

Unfortunately, many local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies have long been havens for white supremacists who love to abuse, brutalize and mistreat people of color. We are officially back in the COINTELPRO era.

Sadly, the presence of black police officers on the scene of police violence incidents has not mitigated the problem. This is true because too many of these officers have morphed into the role played by the “Jewish Ghetto Police” in Poland and Germany during Adolph Hitler’s reign in Nazi Germany.

Does this mean there is nothing that people of color can do about police violence? No, there is an effective solution to this problem.

A Proven Solution

Based upon my experience as a Montgomery, Alabama city council member from 1979- 1983, I know that it is possible to curb police violence in an effective way just by using the power of this local government office. During my tenure on the council, Montgomery’s mayor was a gun-toting, arch conservative, right-wing Republican who relished police violence.

Police officers routinely brutalized and executed Black suspects. Under the state’s “Fleeing Felon” statute, officers could use deadly force to stop a suspect who was merely fleeing the scene of a crime. Fatal shootings occurred frequently.

I used the power of my office as a council member to investigate every incident of police violence. Every council member across America has the power and authority I possessed to investigate the operational affairs of any municipal department. For example, a council member can investigate the police department’s hiring practices, training protocols, incident reports on officers, Internal Affairs reports on complaints of excessive force, personnel files on officers, and any other aspects of an officer’s job performance. No one can block the investigating council member’s access to these city records. The council member can investigate as a committee of one, as I often did.

Upon completion of his/her independent investigation, the council member must reduce his/her findings on the incident of police violence to a written report and include the report in the minutes of the council meeting where he/she presents the report. As an official government document prepared by a member of the governing body, this report will favorably impact a fair and just outcome of any incident of police violence.

Using this technique, we were able to get the “Fleeing Felon” statute declared unconstitutional. We got numerous “trigger happy” police officers removed from the force. The number of fatal police shootings dropped to zero in a 4-year period. We were also able to revamp the police department’s hiring and promotional practices. Finally, we were able to abolish the city’s “debtor’s court” which imprisoned traffic court and misdemeanor offenders who could not afford to pay their fines.

Positive change in the justice system for people of color in America can only come from an extremely focused and aggressive work ethic from those who are elected to represent our political interests.

When our local government officials (i.e., city council members, mayors, county commissioners, etc.) do not investigate and prepare written reports on incidents of police violence, our communities suffer heartbreak, despair, violence in the streets, property damage, bodily injuries and death. Our elected officials can make a positive difference, but only if they outthink and outwork our political adversaries. Sadly, this is not happening today.

If Black Lives Matter activists truly want to end senseless police violence in America, I would urge them to run for local public office, get elected and use the power of their office to investigate police violence. This approach was tried, tested and proven to be effective in Montgomery, which was one of the most racist cities in America during one of its most racist periods in history. The city now has an outstanding young mayor in Steven Reed and a Black police chief.

Black Lives Matter activists should become agents for change inside the political system where they will have full access to all city records and the legal power and authority to effectuate positive change. Their colleagues on the city council many not like them, but all council members will respect their dedication to a worthy cause and committed work ethic. At the end of the day, their political constituents will LOVE them.

PHOTO: Chicago rioting after the death of George Floyd

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