The criminal justice system is a key part of America’s race problem, according to panelists during a virtual session sponsored Thursday evening by Erie Community College’s Anti-Racism Task Force.
The topic was "Black and Blue: Policing Communities of Color." For the speakers, the topic has changed considerably because of the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mainly white mob. One speaker said the riot would have ended far differently if the mob had been African Americans.
A number of police officers have been arrested for participating and some Capital Police are being probed.
An essential in reshaping policing is who gets into the uniform, according to Canisius College Public Safety Director Kimberly Beaty.
"Not one person is born a police officer. So no one is entitled to the profession of being a police officer," Beaty said. "It is a noble profession. We have to work on hiring the right people, screening. And when you do neighborhood canvasses, like I mentioned, they have to be true. You can’t just say, 'Oh, that’s Bob’s son, let’s not really do a background check on him.'"
Beaty is a former deputy police commissioner in Buffalo. She told the meeting there also has to be far better screening and training of officers and longer probationary periods on the street after graduation from the police academy.
Panelists also said policing and the criminal justice system aren’t changing fast enough in the wake of George Floyd's death and the Black Lives Matter movement. Rochester is making changes, including the creation of a Police Accountability Board.
Board Chair Shani Wilson said the board has a limited budget, but the power to deal with problems.
"I think about the many all-white juries that have allowed officers to escape allegations of horrific wrongdoing against Brown and Black people. The Blue Code shows up in prisons when allegations of wrongdoing against prisoners are countered by convenient and inconsistent testimony from corrections officers, testimony that always trumps the testimony from the prisoners themselves," Wilson said.
Businessman Lamont Williams said the nation must go to its founding document, the Constitution, and follow that charter. Williams said when in the Navy, he took an oath to defend that Constitution, and he wants to make sure everyone knows what the rules are and how to make sure they are enforced on everyone.
"Hold our nation to the rights of all men and women that are given by our Constitution," he said. "But, I think, that as long as we allow systemic racism to permeate our country, we continue to see the laws and rights of the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment in particular, bent, twisted or interpreted in a way to suppress people of color."