Open Letter to our Justice and Police Reform Movements Friends and Supporters

EDITORIAL

By Armando Vaquez

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Police Reform and Social Justice Movement,

We pray that you dear folks are well. We send you all our love, peace and happiness. It has been a long while since we have enjoyed each other wonderful company. So as I reach out, perhaps in an untimely and out of the blue manner, please be sure that we understand the hardship of the times and if replying to this note is difficult or impossible at this trying time, of course, we understand. You can contact me at: [email protected]

That being said I, I am sure you folks as well, have anguished over all of the mayhem, and killings that are being levelled upon our sisters and brothers of color throughout this nation by the police. And we are left with a feeling, almost always, of total impotence because we feel powerless to do anything about the deadly cop violence or reforming the police. I have been filled with an impotent sense of dread and paralysis too!

 

Then something happened to me just very recently that made me re-think this police reform conundrum and I do not feel so hopelessly impotent now. I have a vision, not an original vision, to be sure, but a clear vision nonetheless, sparked by what I thought was an innocuous effort on my part to reach out to my justice and police reform brethren in this time of acute pain and suffering. I recently revised and posted on the internet an earlier op-ed piece on police reform under the title of ,The Obsolete American Police Model Must be Abolished: Now!, and instead of getting the usual “your nothing but  a  Bernie/AOC commie” bile, MAGA and Q-anon madness, I received overwhelming inquisitive support, requests to volunteer, and love. This incredible, once seemingly impossible, turnaround in local public opinion on the issue of police reform happened in the last year, perhaps the last few months.  I believe we have reached a critical mass, and police reform in our nation and our communities is possible. People are fed up with the wanton police killings and the way cops operate with absolute power and impunity in this country. The community folk wants to do something, they want a change in the way cops operate in their neighborhoods. Here are my thoughts!

21st Century Community Safety:  In our community safety model the residents of their respective communities lead. There is a place for the police, but it is up to the individual Community Safety and Police Review Board that determines solely what the role of their police department will be. The operative empowerment methodology of 21st century community safety is preventative, restorative and rehabilitative community work. It takes the “entire village” to assist, restore and empower one troubled or a down on his/her luck person at a time. This is a community safety model that is, of course, conceptual, yet very doable. It will have to be imagined, designed and implemented by the community. At the forefront of this community safety movement must be the people of color who are the most brutalized and experience the most detrimentally effected of the current police model. We must take the lead in the creation, development, and implementation of this 21st century community safety vision. For the first time in this nation’s 245 year history we can be the leaders in the creation of our own community safety model!

Higher Education and the 21st Century Community Safety Model: As you friends know I have worked on police accountability and reform for over 50 years and nothing we did in the community change the conduct or the accountability of the police. On the contrary the cops became more powerful, militarized, and repressive. Currently just about any revolutionary community based organization (think our own CORE, and Black Lives Matter) that seek to truly reform or hold the police accountable is immediately attacked and vilified by the dominant,  powerful, and well financed opposition that benefits from the obsolete and unjust status quo. Additionally, the community work, while exceedingly important and vital, is by definition a volunteer enterprise, often times, of haphazard and disconnected fits and starts due to logistical, financial, personnel, and infrastructure limitations. That is what I have always experience in long term community work and in particular in taking on something as daunting and challenging as police reform. The community cannot go it alone it needs dedicated and long term relationships and commitments with local colleges/universities, local government, unions, health and wellness providers, students, artists as well as other community based partners.

Of particular and unique importance are where the local colleges and universities come into play. They will become our incubators of ideas, bastions of research and the repositories of our collective work.  We can and must create a 21st Century Community Justice and Safety Department that in our local college and universities envisions bring all of the community safety stakeholders to the design and creation table. The local colleges and universities have all the necessary elements in place to create an exciting continuum of ideas, concepts and designs on community safety.

The “ethnic” studies departments of our colleges and universities, such as Chicano Studies and Pan-African Studies, are constantly under the eminent threat of being rolled up into other departments or being completely eliminated, again by the same well financed opposition that benefit from the obsolete racist status quo. The timely introduction of the 21st Century Community Safety Program into the department’s curriculum would immediately strengthen the “cutting edge legitimacy, timely relevance/innovation, and unique intellectual importance” of our Chicano and Pan-African Departments at any local or national college or university.

21st Century Community Safety Must Involve Everyone: Community safety involvement by everyone means that at-promise youth, the folks working on their sobriety, the homeless, the immigrants, the farm and factory workers, low income folks, and those people suffering from familial violence, students, educators among others. In other words, those most affected by the current police model, must take a prominent place in the design, decision, implementation making community safety table. In the minds and hearts of these folks is the guiding knowledge, experience, pain, and love that will direct us toward an enlightened, compassionate, and equitable community safety model.

The Time is Now!: The recent cop killing of Andrew Brown, Ma’Kia Bryant, Angel Zapata Hernandez, Andres Guardado, Adam Toledo, Sondra Bland, Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, Mario Arenales Gonzalez, George Floyd and hundreds of other men and women of color have captured the often fickle, frightened, and fleeting conscience of the majority of the American people. The death of these young martyrs have brought all of us to this crucial moment where we as Americans must make a monumental decision regarding the creation of a community safety model that provides true community safety for all, or continue to support the same deadly, racist and obsolete police/military models that ethically, morally and legally benefits no one. The ball is in our community court.

I want to end this note by sharing some of the insight, knowledge and strength that I gleamed from our Chiques Organizing for Rights and Equality (CORE) groups protracted, and what seemed at the time, an impossible fight to win against the Ventura County District Attorney and the Oxnard Police Department in our attempt to abolish the unconstutional and racist Oxnard Civil Gang Injunction. After approximately 17 years of never giving up despite suffering defeat after defeat in the lower courts year after year, doing research in a legal black hole, arguing our case before one of the most conservative and repressive Superior Courts in the nation, and conducting a blistering public relations campaign that created at time more enemies than supporters, and all the while, still committing to countless hours of work with the youth and the families of those enjoined by the Injunction we had to push on. Finally, after 17 years we defeated a monstrously powerful law enforcement cabal that was on the wrong side of justice and the constitution. Today, remembering these unique and at times painful justice and police reform experiences can and will help to guide us in our fight to abolish the current obsolete police model and create and establish our own 21 Century Community Safety Program in Oxnard and in every city throughout this nation. Si Se Puede!


Armando Vazquez, M.Ed.  is Executive Director of  Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition

 


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.


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