Community Justice is the Future

In a recent Letter To The Editor in The Olympian, my friend Marco Rossi, who ran for Mayor of Olympia unsuccessfully in 2015, spoke about the need for reforms in our police department: Olympia must look broadly for police reforms – this conversation is in the wake of two young black men being shot by a white police officer in Olympia last year, and of course the epidemic of these occurrences nationwide.

As is typical, my friend Marco is spot on in his analysis. Recent events made it clear that there is a definite trust deficit. We saw the death of a man in police custody met with assumptions that there must have been wrongdoing – not an unfair assumption to make if you’re feeling marginalized. Then, when those concerns, when that raw emotion, was brought to the city council – instead of listening to the people, our mayor literally shut them down, silencing their dissent – by stopping the council meeting for 10 minutes and retreating to council chambers. This probably set any efforts at reconciliation back another six months – it was a violation of some core principles of our democracy, and I hope that we can move past it and start a dialog.

I want to challenge Marco on one point: Let’s not just push for reforms of the police as we know it. Let’s create restorative and community justice programs that take us away from the broad and disconnected methods utilized today, and put justice in the hands of the community, with officers assigned to dedicated neighborhoods, who build relationships with the people. Sentencing can be restorative, not punitive – and that is proven to lower recidivism rates – meaning less crime in our community, more trust in our police, and hopefully more trust all around. We’re not NYC and we shouldn’t be using the same policing methods they use, which we do currently, as our police chief is a Giuliani/Broken Windows Theory acolyte – it might work in a bigger city, but Olympia doesn’t need that approach. We need a community based, neighborhood level approach. Body cameras, trainings, and citizen review boards are NOT shown to be end all be all solutions. We have to change the WAY we do things.

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