In #TestimonyTuesday, Police Accountability, Washington, DC
Hold police accountable

Thank you Councilmember Allen for holding this hearing. My name is Sarah Novick and I’m the DC Senior Organizer with Jews United for Justice, a community of thousands of Jews and allies committed to advancing social, racial, and economic justice in DC. In the midst of an uprising led by Black organizers against systemic racism and following the killing of Deon Kay by the DC police, we ask that members of the DC Council do everything in your power to end the police violence against Black residents, hold police accountable, bring urgently needed transparency to police processes, and defund the MPD. 

Jewish tradition teaches that destroying one single life, the killing of just one person, is akin to destroying a whole world. In DC, as around the country, police violence has destroyed worlds. And yet, too many of our laws protect police rather than our residents. That is why JUFJ is following the lead of and supporting the recommendations put forward by ACLU-DC, Black Lives Matter DC, DC Justice Lab, DC Working Families Party, Defender Impact Initiative, HIPS, Metro DC DSA, and others, and strongly urges the Council to adopt them. 

The bills being discussed today are a critical step in the direction of police reform and JUFJ supports them. For example, we support the prohibition of the use of neck restraints, expanding the role and reach of the Office of Police Complaints, increasing the number of people on the Police Complaints Board while removing the seats held by law enforcement, and enfranchising eligible District residents incarcerated for felony convictions. All of these are important steps toward police accountability and increased rights for civilians.

That said, DC can and must do so much more to keep Black and Brown people from being terrorized and killed by the police. The DC Council should ban the use of stop and frisk, no-knock search warrants, and military weapons, and end qualified immunity and qualified privilege for police officers. The public should have expanded access to body-worn camera footage. Police disciplinary processes should be strengthened and moved completely outside of MPD. Each of these changes, and others like them, will help end the inequitable policing that has been taking place in DC for far too long.

JUFJ also supports the recommendations to remove policing from the District’s public safety practices, and instead replace policing with trauma-informed approaches. Educating individual police officers on racism and white supremacy as this legislation calls for is necessary, but far from sufficient to address the institutional racism of a deeply flawed system. This is even more so when it comes to our city’s young people. Following the lead of Black Swan Academy, the Council should remove police from our schools. Research shows that placing police in schools does not increase safety, but leads to the criminalization of ordinary student behavior, especially targeting Black students and students with disabilities – thus destroying the worlds of many children of color. We also support the call for creating a crisis response system that does not involve police, expanding the role of violence interruption programs, and overhauling the District’s criminal code to decrease penalties and decriminalize offenses. 

We must couple these changes with a transition away from a reliance on police. Following the lead of BLM, Stop Police Terror Project, and the Defund MPD movement, JUFJ supports the call to defund the police in order to increase investments in Black and Brown communities and alternatives to policing. There are nearly 4,000 MPD officers as well as thousands of additional officers from other law enforcement agencies in DC. Violence in DC has risen and fallen over the years while the number of police has held relatively steady, reinforcing what decades of research shows: violence is a result of failures to invest in and support communities by making sure people’s needs are met. To have safe and thriving communities we need secure housing, quality childcare and education, reliable healthcare, access to food, and well paying jobs rather than a reliance on police. 

As a white person, I can’t know or understand the terror and pain my Black friends, colleagues, and neighbors have experienced at the hands of the police. But I hear them, and I trust them. The Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act must go further to protect the very lives of our community members. The recommendations being made by advocates and activists and people directly impacted by these policing practices are critical steps toward dismantling entrenched racism and preserving life in our city. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.

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