The Pink and Yellow Duplex Part IV
The need for police reform in Hallandale Beach, FL is self-evident. The ability to accomplish meaningful reform, however, is still questionable.
On Tuesday, August 3, The City of Hallandale Beach hosted a panel discussion/workshop, Let’s Start Talking, to discuss initiatives the city can take to improve community-police relations. I was pleased to have been asked to participate on the panel based on my work seeking police reform in Hallandale and my advocacy with the Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward.
The other participants included:
- Maria Schneider, Broward County State Attorney’s Office
- Gordon Weekes, Broward Public Defender’s Office
- Principal Mark Howard, Hallandale High School
- Chief Dwayne Flournoy, Hallandale Beach PD
- Pastor Allen B. Jackson, Ark Church
- Pastor Michael Anderson, New Jerusalem Baptist Church
- Pastor John Houmes, New City Fellowship
This meeting was organized by Commissioner Anthony Sanders, who is also the pastor at Higher Vision Ministries in Hallandale. Sanders, the city’s sole black Commissioner, knows all too well that the issues of police reform and race are intertwined, stating, “Starting in Hallandale, we’re racially divided, we’re socially divided, we’re economically divided.”
These divisions, as well as reluctance to address honest police reform in Hallandale, have helped to create an environment where four unarmed men have been killed by the HBPD over the last four years. Although there have already been 3 public meetings in Hallandale over the past 18 months to address community-police relations, this panel was by far the most productive.1 [1. I was also on the panel for the 1st meeting, Let’s Talk, which took place on Feb. 26, 2015. My write-up of that meting is here. The other 2 meetings, Let’s Keep Talking, were held on Aug. 26 & 27, 2015 by TASER reps/”consultants” Scott Greenwood and Tom Streicher, who did not report community concerns in their deeply flawed “use of force” report.]
Real Problems, Real Solutions
Although there has been a good deal of talk about police reform in Hallandale Beach, community leaders and residents remain unconvinced that city leaders are actually listening.2 [2. See Jasmen Rogers & Brian M. Stewart, Hallandale City Commissioners Helped Cops Kill Michael Eugene Wilson Jr., Activists Say, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, June 28, 2016.] Some steps have been taken to address HBPD use of force policies, and the HBPD has begun to use body cameras, but city officials have repeatedly refused to acknowledge, or willfully ignored, many of the root causes of distrust and distress from the community. City leaders have been particularly hostile to anyone questioning the policies and practices of the HBPD, even when the question is: Why did you kill my neighbor and his dog??
Pointed conversation from the group assembled this week showed that most of the priorities from various perspectives were exceptionally similar.
The problems addressed were then condensed into three major concerns:
- How police perceive and interact with citizens
- How community members perceive and react to police
- Accountability and transparency of misconduct
Boiling the concerns down to these three major issues then allowed the conversation to move to actionable solutions the city of Hallandale Beach and other communities can take to improve community-police relations.
Compiling these solutions is a good step in the right direction. Whether or not the city will acknowledge the reality of the persistent problems in the community and embrace those solutions is another matter entirely. However, the city did acknowledge that this event was intended to be the first of many toward the ultimate goal of long-term change.
The Long Road Ahead: A Two-Way Street
Perhaps one of the most important points repeatedly raised by panelists was that there is no quick fix to problems that have been building up over centuries. The solutions presented will require commitment and investment. City officials must be able and willing to recognize that investing in these solutions will make our city a safer and better place for residents and police officers alike.
Hallandale Beach has been slow to acknowledge and accept wrongdoing by the city’s police officers, including those officers in leadership positions. The city is currently facing a particularly damning civil rights lawsuit stemming from the botched SWAT raid on May 8, 2014 that resulted in the death of my neighbor, Howard Bowe, and his dog, Tank.3 [3. See Bowe v. City of Hallandale Beach, No. 16-cv-60993-WPD (S.D. Fla. filed 2016).] The lawsuit accuses the city and Chief Flournoy of condoning excessive force used by the HBPD, particularly with regard to people of color. In Northwest Hallandale, the historically and predominantly black section of the city, citizens’ complaints of excessive force have been routinely and repeatedly dismissed or ignored.
For those citizens who have long felt justifiably afraid or apprehensive of either the HBPD or police in general, increasing police training on de-escalation, bias, and mental health issues is important. So, too, is increasing opportunities for police and community members to get to know each other better.4 [4. Hallandale Beach has taken steps in this direction with programs such as Coffee with a Cop, Hoops with the Cops, and Know Your Neighborhood.] However, too often these programs focus on what the police can do, rather than what the police and community can do together. Neighborhood walk-throughs are good, but would be far more effective if performed in conjunction with trusted community leaders not associated with the police. Other programs, e.g., PAL programs, should see how to have police and community members all working with each other to build camaraderie naturally over time.
The onus should not be placed entirely upon the police to improve community-police relations. Investing in those communities that have faced systemic discrimination is integral to alleviating the problems stemming from that discrimination. Community leaders have a responsibility to educate citizens and bring people together toward peaceful solutions. In Northwest Hallandale, local religious leaders are working together to try to promote peace within the community, not only addressing police-involved violence, but violence within the community in general.
I remain cautiously optimistic that the City of Hallandale Beach will have the courage and commitment to see these proposed solutions through. Meanwhile, I remain committed to doing what I can to fostering good community relations in my neighborhood in Northwest Hallandale. And I remain committed to making sure that local officials understand the importance of recognizing that Black Lives Matter in Hallandale Beach.
Suggested citation: Brian M. Stewart, On the Road to Reform?, @LawBlarg (Aug. 5, 2016), http://blarg.legalmechanics.us/on-the-road-to-reform.