We launched Justice Teams Network today to build power against systemic State Violence in all its forms. We launched today in Los Angeles at an event hosted by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and Dignity and Power Now. On May 4, the Anti Police-Terror Project in Oakland will launch their 21st Century Survival Program at Santa Rita Jail and May 5 we will launch at the State Capital with a rally hosted by Black Lives Matter Sacramento.
The Network is a statewide coalition of rapid response organizations across the state of California that will mobilize communities to respond radically to state violence. The Network will focus heavily on legislation as well as a public information campaign around the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, the single largest obstacle to police accountability.
In California, police consistently shoot over 100 people every year. Last year in the United States, nearly 1,200 people were killed by police officers. These deaths destroy families and rip apart communities while law enforcement responsible for even the most egregious cases are rarely, if ever, held accountable. This needs to stop.
The Network is grounded in the rapid response model developed in the Bay Area by the Anti Police Terror-Project (APTP) project, and a model for healing justice developed by Dignity and Power Now in LA. The network launch signals the adoption of these models by activists and organizations across the State.
Firstly, allow us to share an example of how APTP’s rapid response mode works. As part of the model, we conducted a People’s Investigation that successfully rewrote the police’s narrative after Richard Perkins was murdered by Oakland Police Department in November 2015. APTP created a process whereby community first responders investigate incidents of police terror. This process proved helpful after police shot and killed him. Perkins had voluntarily informed police on the scene that he was in possession of a toy gun while attending an evening “sideshow” on 98th and Bancroft. The People’s Investigation rewrote the police’s narrative – propagated by a willing media – that criminalized Perkins who was attempting to be a law-abiding citizen. Additionally, the Perkins family was denied the autopsy report for four months but received the report within 48 hours after threats of an APTP shut-down of their office.
Secondly, Healing Justice is an approach Dignity and Power Now developed over the years of dealing directly with State Sanctioned violence against Black and Brown people. For example in Ferguson, Missouri we created a healing justice space. This was a room with low lit candles where a crew of healers provided massages, acupuncture and talk therapy. We created an art space where people could paint and draw what they could not speak or name. We had an altar for people who have passed and pillows for people to rest on. In the fullness of our humanity, we need this, too, along with protests, and the discussions about public policy, a place to rest, to renew. A place to restore.
With Stephon Clark’s murder by 20 police bullets in Sacramento on March 18 and Sahleem Tindle’s murder from 3 bullets to the back on January 3 in Oakland, the case for retribution for officers who break the law is again at the top of the agenda. Despite the outrage we’re not seeing change in behavior, nor are officers of the State being held accountable because they are being protected by the State.
This is because police officers’ have the licence to kill with impunity. The added layer of rights granted under the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights makes it practically impossible to investigate officers and hold them accountable. It remains the major obstacle to justice.
This State legislation is a set of due-process rights for police officers under internal investigation for alleged misconduct. It affords officers additional rights during an investigation that are not afforded to civilians, like secrecy and rules about how they will be investigated. For example:
- It limits the public’s access to police officers’ personnel records;
- it prevents investigations from searching a suspect’s locker except in his presence, or with his consent, or unless a valid search warrant has been obtained or where he has been notified that a search will be conducted; and
- The officer under investigation shall be informed prior to the interrogation of the rank, name, and command of the officer in charge of the interrogation, the interrogating officers, and all other persons to be present during the interrogation.
Practically speaking, this means in cases like the killing of Stephon Clark this law specifically prevents information about police misconduct from being released to the public. That means Sacramento officials are not allowed to say whether the officers who killed Stephon Clark end up being fired or disciplined. In the name of “due process” police officers literally get away with murder without accountability. This truly is a key element of our lack of responsiveness to cases of excessive force. It’s time to end murder with impunity and we are starting with California and going to 14 States that have these laws on the books.
We will not stop unless the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights is repealed by every single state. Throughout our history, Black and Brown people have come together as a community to fight violence. We have often worked in silos and with the launch of the JTN we will bring together these radical voices from the silos into the frontlines for our fight to end systemic and institutional state terror against black people and all people of color.
We are coming together as people, as organizations and as a community commitment to eradicating state violence from our communities within a powerful network that shares resources, information, and campaign strategy in real time; strengthening impact and resilience.
Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and the Justice Teams Network
Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and founder and Executive Director of the Justice Teams Network