Pursuing racial equity in police reform panel addresses systemic racism

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

The discussion highlighted ways in which communities affected by police violence can demand change.

By Cassandra Nava, News Editor

Officer Guillen waits at a traffic checkpoint at the intersection of North Spring and Temple as she and other LA County Sheriffs wait for “Jackie Lacey has got to go” protesters to disperse. (Photo by Solomon Smith/The Valley Star)

LACCD held a virtual panel on police reform with keynote speaker Rashawn Ray in order to inform students about the ways they can analyze racial biases in policing.

The discussion was hosted by the district’s chancellor, Francisco Rodriguez, and moderator James McKeever, a Pierce College student advisor for sociology. They welcomed attendees to the Nov. 12 discussion and introduced Ray, a University of Maryland professor of sociology. The esteemed professor presented his research on police misconduct and how the reallocation of police funds can benefit the department and communities.

Police department budgets have been under scrutiny in recent protests, as activists point to the excessive spending used to militarize the police as the root of unnecessary violence, according to the ACLU. Social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and The Movement for Black Lives have used “defund the police” as a slogan in their protests. Ray broke down what this phrase really means.

“The ‘defund the police’ movement does have merit, and my research suggests that we take an evidence based, market driven approach to police funding and spending,” said Ray. “The important point is that ‘defund the police’ does not mean abolition, it means reallocating funding away from police to other things like social services.”

According to Ray, the communities the police serve should speak out on behalf of themselves, since citizens pay the departments through taxes. He explained that the taxpayer’s money should be invested in local communities in order to close these disparities.

The taxpayer not only pays for the police department, but it pays on behalf of their faults as well, according to Ray. He discussed how civilian payouts for police misconduct are unfair for taxpayers and families alike. Some examples of wrongful death settlements are those for the families of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor. Ray claims that his research suggests that most of the officers were not charged.

“Over the past five years, from 2015 to 2020, the U.S. police departments have paid out over $2 billion in civilian payouts for police misconduct,” according to Ray.

In Breonna Taylor’s case, $12 million was awarded to her family, but Brett Hankison, former Louisville police officer, was not charged for Taylor’s murder. Hankison was instead charged with wanton endangerment. This meant that he was charged for the “extreme indifference to the value of human life,” according to CNN.

“He [Hankison] was charged for shooting bullets into the drywall that separates her and her neighbor’s apartment,” Ray said. “In that regard, Breonna Taylor’s wall received more justice than her physical body. To add insult to injury, the $12 million awarded doesn't even come from the police department budget, it comes from general funds. Taxpayers pay that money. So Breonna Taylor’s own taxes that she paid for taking care of people as an EMT, was used to pay her family back for her wrongful death.”

Ray also noted that the flawed system can be traced back to the mental health of police officers. His research found that 80 percent of police officers suffer chronic stress and one out of five report being suicidal. Despite their mental health issues, 90 percent of them never seek help. This must be addressed in order to reform police departments, according to the professor.

“Oftentimes we are sending sick people to help sick people,” said Ray, in relation to when calls for mental health emergencies land on unprepared police departments.

Ray offered two solutions that would seek to reform the department from within, which would focus on the well-being of officers and the relationship they have with their communities.

“There are two bottom lines: first, police officers should be mandated to have mental health counseling. Second, police officers should be mandated to live within the district, or at least within a certain boundary of the place that employs them.”

After Ray presented his research, students were able to ask questions on the discussion. Addressing the chancellor as well, a student asked if LACCD will defund the Sheriff department. According to a recent press release, the district currently spends over $25 million a year for this contract. Rodriguez claimed that the 10-year partnership with the LA County Sheriff’s department is coming to an end, so there are discussions of reimagining campus law enforcement and officers.

“We have been very clear about our interests in de-escalation and culturally responsive training,” said Rodriguez. “Our sheriff's department contract will end at the end of this calendar year. We are discussing it now, but we will know before then whether we retain our relationship with the sheriff's department, or whether we move into a different kind of environment.”

Ray ended his presentation with policy steps for equitable policing: restructure civil payouts for police misconduct, reallocate funding, mandatory mental health counseling for officers and more.

“In order for the United States to truly become equitable,” said Ray, “we can't do that unless we deal with disparities in the criminal justice system, primarily as it relates to policing in the United States.”