Local Clergy Call for Police Reforms, Set Community Meeting

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – On the day George Floyd was laid to rest in Houston, local church and community leaders say they will not rest until police reforms are enacted to stop the killing of black men at the hands of police.  

At a press conference Monday afternoon, local church and community leaders outlined expectations they want Mahoning Valley police departments, prosecutors and administrative oversight groups to adopt as next steps in the wake of Floyd’s death while he was in the custody of the Minneapolis police. Floyd’s death has sparked two weeks of global protests, including tens of thousands of people in major cities over the weekend calling for change.

The group also invited police, justice leaders and the black community to an open dialogue at 6 p.m. June 23 at New Bethel Baptist Church, 1507 Hillman St. in Youngstown. 

A handcuffed Floyd laid face down on the street as Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd begged for breath. Chauvin was fired and  charged with second- murder and manslaughter. He appeared in court Monday, where bail was set at $1.25 million.

Three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest also were fired and face charges. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. 

“We, your clergy, want you to know we feel you. With every tear that you shed, with every heart that is aching, with every bit of disgust and anger that you are experiencing, we your pastors, your preachers, your community leaders want you to know that we have walked where you walk now, said Pastor Rosie Taylor, president of the Youngstown Area Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. 

The Rev. Kenneth Simon credited young community leaders who have organized local protests that drew more than 600 people to downtown Youngstown and about 1,000 to downtown Warren.

“The protests alone will not stop the violence. The protests alone will not stop the police brutality. It must be followed up with actions that will lead to systemic change in policy and policing across this nation of ours,” Simon said. “America will not be great until all citizens are treated with dignity and respect.”

He outlined changes the group wants to see local departments to implement. He said what the local group is pushing for are platforms already used by police reform advocates, as all of the points were highlighted by Campaign Zero, a group pushing for research-based solutions to end police violence, and President Barack Obama’s 2015 report from a task force on 21st Century Policing

“We’re not re-inventing the wheel here,” he said. 

Changes the group is calling for are:

  • Establishing binding citizens review boards.
  • Independent investigations of prosecutorial and police misconduct.
  • Appropriate punitive action taken against police officer misconduct.
  • Mandatory, working body cameras to be worn by all police officers.
  • Mandatory federal investigations.
  • Fair police union contracts.
  • Mandatory legal assistance for families.
  • Take steps to the end racial profiling by all police officers and in all departments. 
  • Mandatory diversity training prior to an officer being hired and continued mandatory diversity training throughout employment.
  • Stopping the use of excessive force by police officers, such as the chokehold tactic that was used on Floyd. 

“There is no way that the force used on George Floyd should be used by any department across the nation,” Simon said. “The violence has to stop and change must take place.”

Jaladah Aslam, president of Youngstown-Warren Black Caucus, said Monday was the official kickoff of the group’s work for implementing the policy changes. She said no formal meetings with officials, police chiefs or judicial officials have taken place as of yet. 

She was clear that despite the press conference being held in Youngstown, the recommendations were not meant to be specific to the city, and that all area police departments need to be involved and make policy changes. 

One of the policy changes that faces hurdles surrounds union contracts. Aslam, who has years of experience as a union contract negotiator, said making headway will be a challenge. Many police union contracts afford protections when it comes to discipline and firing as well as misconduct and personnel files. 

Aslam explained that because police are unable to strike, arbitration is used. According to Aslam, arbitrators can earn $1,200 to $1,600 a day and it can be lucrative for an arbitrator to not lose standing for hearing cases. 

“It’s a business. What we want from people who are sworn to protect and serve is for them to serve us and not each other, not the blue code,” Aslam said.

Pictured: Jaladah Aslam, president of the Youngstown Warren Black Caucus, answers questions during a press conference at Union Baptist Church.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.