While I was in New York last month, I had the chance to attend two protests against police brutality and racial bias. I wanted to explain why I attended them, and what the purpose was behind them.

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I attended the marches because I believe that there is a pervasive pattern of overreaction and brutality against people of color. This does not mean that I think every cop is bad. My sister was a cop for many years, as was my brother-in-law. I understand the heavy and real risk of being in this line of work, and that it is a daily sacrifice of personal safety. I don’t think all cops are bad. In fact, I think many of them are good. I am not protesting those cops.

What I am protesting is the idea that a crime is punishable by death in the streets if the criminal resides in a black body. What I am protesting is the bias and resulting overreaction that leads to a man (or a child) being shot dead for holding a toy gun.

I’m also protesting the micro-aggressions that don’t always make the news, but that foster the environment that leads to life-threatening violence. I’m protesting the black producer being detained as a robbery subject because he fit the description, the black mother being pulled over and having her children be forced to exit the car at gunpoint.  I’m protesting the black college professor who was arrested and thrown to the ground for jaywalking on a closed-off street as white men cross the street during the arrest. I’m protesting an arrest of a black woman that involves beating her in the face repeatedly.

I’m protesting the fact that my nephew has been pulled over and had his car searched numerous times since getting his license last year, simply for driving while black.
And of course, I’m protesting those whose lives were cut short unjustly. I’m protesting Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Mike Brown. Yvette Smith. John Crawford. Kimani Gray. Aiyana Stanley Jones. Reka Boyd. Sean Bell. Ezell Ford. Alex Nieto. Oscar Grant. Anthony Baez. Akai Gurley. They are the why.

As to the how . . . the first protest I attended was organized by Faith In New York. It was a rally for clergy and people of faith. I was invited by Shane Clairborne as a part of the Red Letter Christians movement. We heard from several faith leaders in the black community, as well as Muslim leaders and Native American leaders.

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This protest, held outside City Hall, had a very specific agenda that was thoughtfully outlined by Faith in New York. I am including it here, because I think it is the most comprehensive task list I’ve seen for making lasting and impacting changes.

Faith and New York Policy Priorities

As people of faith who are deeply troubled by the state of police and community relations in New York City and abroad, we are calling for the following measures:
Restoring Broken Trust: Steps to Improve Police and Community Relations
Proposed policy: On-going training for all police officers that includes  training on implicit bias and cultural sensitivity

The “othering” of community members in non-white communities and the history of racism, classism and bias in this country undergirds many of the acts of violence committed in our communities. Asking police officers to both learn about and address these issues can led to more productive relationships between cops and the communities they police.

President Obama can mandate this on a federal level by tying it to federal funding for police departments. New York city could also develop its own policy. End the militarization of police departments across the country by passing the bipartisan “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act 
As scenes of tanks and automatic machine guns in Ferguson have shocked the world, it is essential that America ends the militarization of its police through a military surplus give away known as the “1033 program”. The federal government should discontinue its supply of military weaponry and equipment to local law enforcement. And though Congress seems to finally be considering measures in this regard, it remains essential to monitor the demilitarization processes and the corporate sectors that financially benefit from the sale of military tools to police. In NY, we should create a mechanism for city administration and police to have a public review process for all 1033 purchases and deployment
Police Accountability to End Brutality and Racial Profiling
Proposed policy: Require police to wear voice activated body cameras with cloud data storage
Although the Eric Garner case has proven that a video is not enough to prosecute, there is strong evidence that show that police are less likely to commit acts of violence or abuse if they know they are being filmed. This technique proved to reduce instances of police abuse by as much as 88% in one year in Rialto, a heavily Latino city of  Southern California with a history of tension between police and the non-white community. Voice activated with full data backup.
Mayor de Blasio has authority over the New York City Police Department which has already implemented a pilot program that he can mandate and expand. President Obama can also enact this change by requiring it off all  departments that take any federal funding
Pass the “Right to Know Act” in NYC
Help to reduce excessive and abusive stop and frisk tactics in the city that lead to disproportionate incarceration of young men and boys of color. The legislation would allow people interacting with police to demand name, badge number and officer’s rank for any interaction that doesn’t end with an arrest or summons. It would also require that officers inform people that a stop and frisk search is voluntary before beginning any voluntary search.
Comprehensive and mandatory reporting of all incidents of police brutality across the country and locally
Currently the scope and scale of police abuse and violence is difficult to determine because it is not centrally tracked or required of law enforcement departments. By creating a centralized data base and mandatory reporting of police brutality and racial profiling, we can not only begin to understand the scope and scale of this problem but also begin to find best practices and solutions.
President Obama can make this a reality by tying federal funding for police departments to the collection and timely reporting of this data. At a local level, the NYPD should publish quarterly and annual reports of summons and misdemeanor arrests, as well as use of force, to include demographic data.
Fixing Our Broken Judicial System
Proposed policy: Develop a policy that appoints a special prosecutor to hear all cases of police brutality or misconduct
This is important because of the close working relationship between police departments and district prosecutors. There is widespread perception by the public that it is nearly impossible for prosecutor who overwhelmingly rely on police testimony and evidence to perform their jobs to prosecute these same police without bias. The evidence supports these concerns, with only X indictments after X of cases of police brutality in New York City alone. See this NY Times Op-ed for more information.   This change can come about by executive action by Gov. Cuomo. He can empower the current elected Attorney General to serve as special prosecutor in cases of police brutality. We also encourage the Department of Justice to launch its own grand jury to indict officers responsible for murder of victims of police brutality across the country. 
Creating Violence Free Neighborhoods
Proposed policy: Provide funding for Ceasefire violence prevention activities
Ceasefire is a nationally tested and data driven method of identifying the small number of community members that are the most high risk for committing acts of violence against other community members and creating pathways out of that lifestyle. It involves close collaboration between clergy, community members and police departments and has been proven to dramatically reduce instances of shootings and killings in cities across the country.
PICO National is calling on President Obama to create a funding mechanism to support this important work.

I really appreciate the practical ideas outlined here, and I think they are reasonable and achievable. I’m hopeful that they can be implemented. The second protest I attended was the Millions March. This was a larger-scale protest with the aim of demonstrating the solidarity and sheer numbers of people who are outraged with what is going on, and from my perspective it was incredibly effective in that end. DSC00518
The volume of people who showed up was astounding, and the diversity was encouraging too. I saw people of all races and ages, bound together in their determination to see things change. It was peaceful and hopeful. Photo Dec 13, 2 26 11 PM
To learn more about how you can lend your voice on these issues, check out the resources at Black Lives Matter.