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Excerpt of BLOCS Letter to Candidates
Now on APN you can check out our latest story about a group of community organizations calling for more accountability and transparency in the Atlanta Police Department.
On Oct. 26, a group called Building Locally to Organize for Community Safety (BLOCS) sent a letter to each of the Atlanta mayoral candidates asking each to support a national search for a new police chief, to appoint a police chief who fully cooperates with the Atlanta Citizens Review Board (ACRB), and to call for a ACRB investigation of the APD’s controversial Red Dog Unit.
Here is an excerpt from that letter:
Throughout your campaign, you have affirmed your commitment to improving public safety and reducing crime in our city. As members of communities affected by crime and violence, as well as by the actions and inactions of our police department, we applaud this commitment. However, we know that more police officers and more jail beds will not solve our problems with violence, crime, or police misconduct. We need and expect our next Mayor to demonstrate the leadership and vision to make our city safer for everyone by increasing the quality and effectiveness of our current police department. Rebuilding trust between our communities and the APD should be a top priority of the next administration.
A recent incident of police misconduct has generated significant protests and received a good deal of press coverage. On September 10, the APD brought in 15 police cars, 3 paddy wagons, and 25 members of the REDDOG unit to raid the Eagle, a gay bar on Ponce de Leon Avenue. The bar’s patrons were forced to lie facedown on the ground with their hands above their heads and were physically searched for more than an hour while members of the REDDOG unit used profane language and racial and homophobic slurs. After no drugs or weapons were found, the police forced the patrons to continue lying on the floor and asked for their identification to check for outstanding arrest warrants. There were none.
The gay community and the larger Atlanta community concerned with civil rights were outraged by this incident. While real issues of community safety go unaddressed and emergency calls for help go unheeded for as long as 20 and 30 minutes, APD officers thought this raid – in which no drugs or violence were even alleged, let alone discovered – was a good use of its time and energy. This poor judgment combined with unnecessary force, disrespect of the people, and potential violation of their civil and constitutional rights, is just one example of why the APD lacks the faith and confidence of the people it is supposed to serve.
While The Eagle raid may be garnering significant attention, we know that this misguided and overly aggressive action by the Atlanta police is hardly an isolated incident. Our organizations are aware that improper conduct of this sort occurs on a regular basis – perhaps even daily — in those communities labeled by the department as “high crime.” The behavior of the department and lack of strong independent oversight leaves community members with little desire to cooperate with the police and makes true public safety an impossibility.
As you know, the murder of Kathryn Johnston, an elderly Northwest Atlanta resident who was shot to death by three undercover police officers who barged into her home with a no-knock warrant in 2006, prompted an investigation that revealed a pattern of APD abuses, including officers lying to judges in order to secure search warrants. The systemic problems uncovered by Ms. Johnston’s death moved the Atlanta City Council to create the Atlanta Citizen Review Board (ACRB) to serve as an independent civilian check on police power.
But the Atlanta Police Department has repeatedly and intentionally denied access to information that the ACRB needs in order to carry out its investigative function (Atlanta Police Officers Refuse to Cooperate with Citizen Review Board, AJC, Rhonda Cook (Aug. 26, 2009).) We fully support the ACRB’s work to carry out independent investigations of abusive language, false arrest, false imprisonment, harassment, excessive force, and serious bodily injury or death caused by police action. An independent investigative agency like the ACRB can play a critical role in not only ensuring accountability and transparency, but also in
identifying systemic problems that need to be reformed.
Each of the mayoral candidates signed on to the pledge before the Nov. 3 election.
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