Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Racism Has No Place in Our City

At Monday's Richardson City Council meeting, the council approved unanimously a statement condemning racism. It would have been inspiring...if it didn't have a pro forma feel to it. It came across as a tad defensive. More of a PR exercise than a heartfelt examination of our civic soul.

To see what I'm getting at, read these two statements and see if you can tell which one is from the City of Richardson (from this week) and which one is from the City of Minneapolis (from 2017).
What we look like and where we come from should not determine the benefits, burdens, or responsibilities we bear in our society...We see inequality based on race, gender, and other social characteristics as not only unfortunate but unjust.
Source: Race & Equity.
We stand together in our commitment to justice, peace, kindness and understanding, in order to be the best possible civil servants we can be. We also hold dear the position that [our] municipal government is here to serve everyone, no matter who they are.

Which is which doesn't matter. Both are motherhood and apple pie statements. It takes more, a lot more, to deliver equality than flowery statements. Minneapolis brags about its "reputation as one of the most progressive, thriving cities in the country," but George Floyd is still dead. Richardson brags that it "has deservedly earned recognition for our inclusiveness and compassion," sounding like Minneapolis just before George Floyd was murdered.

What did the Richardson City Council have to say about its statement on equality before unanimously approving it? Before getting to that, I want to say that I respect everyone on the council. I think they are all good people. I don't think any of them is racist. But. I don't think they have the life experiences that allow them to understand what it's like being a black person in America. Not that I do. I'm an old white guy myself. But we all ought to be able to avoid some obvious mistakes.

City Manager Dan Johnson said, "Even as a leading community, we are aggressively reviewing our practices and our methods." Mayor Paul Voelker emphasized "our opportunity to continuously improve." If the process is continuous, there should be something in the works now, right? Neither one called out any improvements in the works. Maybe George Floyd's death will lead to something, but that would not be continuous and aggressive. That's reactive. That's episodic. That's occasional. That's not good enough.

Janet DePuy praised how diverse we are and how important that diversity is to us. She encouraged anyone to enroll in Richardson's Citizen Police Academy to better understand the stringent interview process, stringent training process, and psychological testing that Richardson police undergo. I'm sure there is great value in this program, but the next class isn't until February, 2021, and applications for 2021 "are not being accepted at this time." If the policies and processes mentioned by DePuy are available online for review, they are not easy to find. Comments on Facebook this week indicate they aren't online, with one person reporting that, when calling the city to inquire, they were advised to file an open records request.

A quick look at the program's website raised questions in my mind about whether it's even designed for the critical issues raised by George Floyd's murder. The course description says, "Classes are designed to be interactive and fun with an emphasis on team building. During this time, students will participate in a mock SWAT raid, test their skills on the Department’s driving course and have the opportunity to fire police weapons." It says the course "requires one Saturday class for the ever popular Drive-n-Shoot." (Emphases added.) It does sound like fun, but if you are interested in learning if the department's use-of-force policy might lead to disaster instead of "fun", it doesn't sound like this course is for you.

Ken Hutchenrider says our police are "professional, caring, and trained." He says that "occasionally we have to tweak a policy," without acknowledging that any tweaks might be needed now. Overall he says our police are of "a higher caliber". "A Higher Caliber" happens to be the slogan of the Richardson Police. Puns on guns don't project a message consistent with the "secret sauce" of community policing that Richardson prides itself on having. Maybe we should run a contest for a new slogan that puns on our commitment to community policing. And do away with a gun mentality altogether.

Steve Mitchell gave an impassioned speech on the "senseless killing of George Floyd" and the need to "root out racism." Way to go, Steve. He said that "We hear what you're saying" and "There are changes that have to be made." Even better. Bring it home, Steve. But then like the others, he didn't seem to have any changes in mind that he thought worthy to mention.

Kyle Kepner told a story of serving on a Collin County grand jury, where he found the difference in effectiveness between the City of Richardson's police detectives and other cities' detectives was like night and day. Kepner said Richardson police got 100% of their indictments while other cities got only 70%. Praising Richardson police on their ability to get indictments seemed bafflingly oblivious at a time when the nation is angry about abuses by police.

Kepner went on to tell about protesters at the IANT mosque a few years ago. Kepner said the Richardson police "did a good job of protecting the rights of protesters." I wanted to scream, "They were WHITE." Praising police for respecting the civil rights of heavily armed white protesters seemed bafflingly oblivious after a "Black Lives Matters" protest at City Hall (which, by the way, was also a majority white affair in Richardson). I know Kepner was trying to draw a distinction between the behavior of Richardson police and the police in other cities, but still, it just sounded tone deaf.

Bob Dubey said he's raised teenagers in Richardson. He's even had police come to his house. He said they ask, "What can we do to help?" Maybe I was just getting worn down by the tone deaf responses by now, but again I wanted to scream, "You're WHITE." Have you never heard that calling 911 can be a death sentence for black people? That police often make crises worse? Did you not see this week's video of the black store owner who yelled to get police attention when her store was being looted? The police came and arrested...her. Do you think it can't happen here? Minneapolis did, too. Think deeper.

Mark Solomon said he "echoed what's been said" down to saying "we can always do better" without offering a single suggestion for how we can do better. I heard an echo that I don't think Solomon himself did.

Dan Johnson closed by saying he will return in a week or two with the Richardson police chief to provide details on police policies. I'll be listening, not just to him, but to the City Council members. I hope they come prepared with some better questions and ideas than we heard this week. To kick things off, maybe they could review the suggestions by the #8CantWait campaign. These are not the only ideas circulating out there and maybe aren't the best ideas, but these can get some discussion going. We need that.


Unknown said...

Thank you, Mark.

Kyle Kepner said...

My point was that the imam praised the police for keeping the congregates safe and allowing the protest to go on peacefully. Peaceful protests are protected no matter who is protesting. Our police do an excellent job and in 2019 out of around 10000 stops we had two minor complaints against officers and both were investigated and found to be unfounded. I also said that our RPD leadership does a great job but also strives to impetus the department.

Mark Steger said...

Kyle Kepner, thanks for your response. I agree with you that RPD's handling of the protests at the mosque was good. Your numbers on citizen complaints against police is impressive. Is that data (police stops, citizen complaints, and results of investigations) public information (not needing an open-records request)?

Kyle Kepner said...

I believe it is. Those numbers came from our annual police briefing. and impetus was autocorrected from improve in my remarks. Most meetings are public even though that particular one was not broadcast since it was on location at RPD HQ. Community impact had a presence during that particular meeting.

Mark Steger said...

Kyle Kepner, thanks again. I was actually looking for access to a database of police activity, not an annual briefing. I looked over the Feb. 3, 2020, annual police briefing and, although I could find a chart on crimes, I could not find any data on police stops or citizen complaints. Public online access to the database where such information is recorded would be a valued show of transparency.

Mark Steger said...

Although it's not a database, the new transparency page for RPD does have a link to RPD's annual report on racial profiling. This report says RPD had 33,897 motor vehicle contacts in 2019 that resulted in verbal warnings, written warnings, or tickets. It says that each of the drivers was given information about how to file a complaint. It says that only three complaints were received. One was judged to be unfounded. Two were exonerated.