By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO
Candidates for the District of Columbia’s City Council chairman and at-large member spent the evening of May 30 answering tough questions about criminal justice reform. One candidate called for the ouster of Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham and another said the city should fire “bad cops.”
Candidates at the forum, hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia, fielded questions from moderator Denise Rolark Barnes, owner and publisher of the Washington Informer. ACLU-DC streamed the panels live on Facebook.
In the race for D.C. Council chairman, Rolark Barnes asked incumbent Phil Mendelson and challenger Ed Lazere how they’d restore community trust in the Metropolitan Police Department, given what she called a lack of transparency and accountability clouding investigations into fatal police-involved shootings such as Terrence Sterling’s and most recently, 24-year-old D’Quan Young’s.
Mendelson endorsed a three-pronged approach. One, bad cops should be fired and prosecuted; two, the council should increase and promote police accountability in other ways; and three, officers should use community policing methods to reach out and build trust with residents.
“When they do that, we will see less, or fewer, of these incidents that are so troublesome and counterproductive with the community,” said Mendelson, who was elected to the council in 1998 and has been chairman since 2012.
Lazere, who said he left his longtime job as executive director for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute to concentrate on his candidacy, said the council should take a leadership role, whether it’s through legislation or extra oversight to ensure information goes public as quickly as possible.
“As council chair, I would be ready and eager to make sure what we do much more . . . and just putting public pressure on the mayor and partnering with the community to make sure that we know as much as possible as soon as possible,” he said.
In the race for the at-large council seat, two young political neophytes – Marcus Goodwin, a real estate acquisitions associate at Four Points and Jeremiah Lowery, an organizer at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network – hope to unseat Anita Bonds from the seat she’s held since 2012.
Bonds did not attend the debate or respond to a request for comment from the AFRO about why she didn’t go.
Suzanne Ito, strategic director of communications for the D.C. ACLU, said Bonds cited longstanding prior commitments when she pulled out on May 21. Her absence left the two millennials to spar with each other.
In response to a question about the police department declining to collect data on stop and frisks despite the passage of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act in 2016, Lowery called for Chief Newsham’s immediate removal.
Lowery argues that the council can’t reform the criminal justice system or policing in the District without the stop-and-frisk information. “I believe that Chief Newsham, who knowingly did not submit the data – if he’s not going to do it, he should be fired,” Lowery said to applause. “They should fire him on the spot. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”
In statement to the AFRO submitted by Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue, the Metropolitan Police Department has been collecting data for stop and frisks.
“The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has, for years, been collecting most of the police stops information required by the NEAR Act. However, the data currently provided may be in narrative fields or videos which are not easily aggregated,” Donahue told the AFRO in a statement.
The statement explains that updated technology is required in order to adequately collect stop and frisk data.
“With the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, we believe the necessary IT modifications will take six to seven months to complete and that the stops data will be collected in this new format beginning in the summer of 2019,” Donahue wrote.
Goodwin, meanwhile, pushed for an approach that holds the executive branch responsible for legislation the council puts in place. “We need to bridge the gap from our local elected officials, the ward and at-large council members with the executive branch so that we can have more oversight and hold the police accountable,” Goodwin said to applause.
The election is June 19, with early voting ending on June 15.