UPDATE: Partial victory!
While Bellingham turned out to express outrage at the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, it’s disappointing that Bellingham Police still lacks a permanent citizen community-led oversight body with a lead role in police accountability.
Instead, the Bellingham Police Department displayed the “blue lives matter” insignia — both desecrating the US flag and implying an alliance with reactionary and white nationalist groups – until the morning of May 31st.
While we appreciate Chief Doll’s willingness to listen the community and find a more inclusive way to honor those who have died serving Bellingham, we still need an independent civilian review board for true accountability.
Take action and demand that Black Lives Matter in Bellingham: contact Mayor Seth Fleetwood MayorsOffice@cob.org and/or (360) 778-8100 and Police Chief David Doll at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or (360) 778-8600 to make your voice heard.
Feel free to use or modify the draft below.
Mayor Fleetwood and Chief Doll,
Recent weeks have been filled with devastating news: on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, police continue to kill black people.
The most recent death to receive national attention is the police killing of George Floyd as an officer knelt on his neck as he lay handcuffed in a Minneapolis street saying “I can’t breathe.” Mr. Floyd’s last words echo the words of Eric Garner in 2014 when he was killed by the NYPD and understandably provoked a community that never saw justice in the 2016 Minnesota police killing of Philando Castile witnessed and recorded by his partner.
While I am heartened by Chief Doll’s facebook post joining the chorus of law enforcement leaders across the US recognizing the excessive and unnecessary force in the death of Mr. Floyd and his swift action in removing the “Thin Blue Line” insignia from police department signage when community members raised fears about its association with white supremacist groups, we are still concerned about accountability regarding Bellingham Police Department use of force occurrences.
We appreciate the department’s de-escalation training as well as Chief Doll’s reassurances that the Bellingham Police Department reviews officer use of force at multiple levels, all the examples of review you cite are internal. True transparency and accountability require citizen participation, not only internal review. Body cameras and sharing statistics monthly and a start but without external oversight, these depend entirely upon the honesty and commitment of leaders. As I think we all recognize, not every leader is honest or committed to justice. This is why Bellingham must have a permanent community-led oversight body that is independent of the police department and fully empowered to investigate complaints and serious injury at the hands of police.
Many people find it difficult to report police misconduct to the police, especially for those of us who are visible minorities or who have witnessed or experienced less than professional conduct from law enforcement in the past. I hope we all recognize that visible minority members of our community – including but not limited to Black people, First Nations people and LGTQ people – have had [our/their] safety and freedom compromised by systems of oppression that discourage them from interacting with law enforcement.
Moreover, a permanent community-led oversight body could benefit not only an individual reporting potential misconduct, but also the larger community, the police department, and even elected officials. Potential benefits include:
- Complainants are given a place to voice concerns outside of the law enforcement agency.
- Oversight can help hold the police or sheriff’s department accountable for officer’s actions.
- Oversight agencies can help improve the quality of the department’s internal investigations of alleged misconduct.
- The community at large can be reassured that discipline is being imposed when appropriate, while also increasing the transparency of the disciplinary process.
- When the oversight agency confirms a complainant’s allegation(s), complainants may feel validated. Similarly, when the oversight agency exonerates the officer, the officer may feel vindicated.
- Oversight agencies can help improve community relations by fostering communication between the community and police agency.
- Oversight agencies can help reduce public concern about high profile incidents.
- Oversight agencies can help increase the public’s understanding of law enforcement policies and procedures.
- Oversight agencies can improve department policies and procedures. Policy recommendations can prevent issues by identifying areas of concern and subsequently offering options to improve policing.
- Oversight agencies can assist a jurisdiction in liability management and reduce the likelihood of costly litigation by identifying problems and proposing corrective measures before a lawsuit is filed.
- By establishing an oversight system, public officials are provided the opportunity to demonstrate their desire for increased police accountability and the need to eliminate misconduct. i
Respectfully, I ask that you both uphold the mission of the Bellingham Police Department, “Committed to Community.” by establishing a permanent community-led oversight body for the Bellingham Police Department with a lead role in police accountability that includes communities who are disproportionally incarcerated.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Editor’s note: This action was written by Lee Che Leong. It origniated as a post in our Facebook group. Join us for more action and discussion facebook.com/groups/RivetersCollective.