DECATUR, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston hosted a virtual Town Hall meeting on criminal justice, law enforcement and community engagement on July 9, 2020.
The event was moderated by WSB Radio’s Veronica Waters. The panelists included:
- District Attorney Sherry Boston
- DeKalb County Police Chief Mirtha Ramos
- Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan
- Civil Rights Attorney and Community Organizer Mawuli Davis
- Southern Center for Human Rights Public Policy Director and Attorney Marissa Dodson
Protests and discussions related to excessive use of force, de-escalation, accountability, and relations between law enforcement and communities have continued around the country, and the conversations on local issues continued through the virtual meeting, which was reportedly attended by more than 150 people.
Panelists reflected on the deaths of Michael Brown, Philando Castile, George Floyd and several others who were killed by police during their discussion on police accountability.
Boston said the roles of district attorneys in the criminal justice system were built on systemic racism from the beginning. She said, as a result, it is important for her office to show fairness in holding officers and everyone in the system accountable.
“We’ve reached the tipping point,” said Davis, who said the accumulation of so many instances of excessive use of force captured on video is drawing more attention to the problems and inspiring more people to get involved.
Dodson said the tipping point is an opportunity to figure out how to build trust between law enforcement and the community. She said there is a need for officers to properly de-escalate situations to prevent potentially deadly situations, recommending more programs to assist with mental health issues as part of the solution.
Grogan said, while excessive force is never acceptable, sometimes there is a difference of opinion in terms of whether the force was excessive.
Boston said victimization is part of the problem.
“A lot of people base their opinions on who they think the victim is and whether or not they view a victim as being innocent,” she said, also saying there’s a lack of empathy when it is perceived a victim did something to deserve what happened to them. “A victim is a victim.”
Both Ramos and Grogan shared how the morale of many officers in their police departments is low, as they navigate through high expectations and backlash from the public. They also weighed in on how they are addressing officers’ concerns while working to boost morale and provide them with the tools to do their jobs.
“Officers have one of the toughest jobs in the country, because society has failed with homelessness and mental health issues, and it falls on the police department to deal with it,” Grogan said.
They also discussed how both departments require officers to have their body cameras on at all times to avoid disciplinary action, which can include being fired for repeated instances of failing to turn their cameras on.
In terms of solutions, Davis recommended starting a Task Force that he said would allow the community to take part in the process of removing some of the deep-seated issues.
Ramos said more police transparency is part of the solution by showing the public they are holding police officers accountable, providing proper training, taking action and letting the community know action was taken.
Grogan suggested putting policies, crime statistics and complaints online for the public. He said his department currently releases use of force data once a year.
The panelists also discussed how citizens should conduct themselves when approached by an officer, with all of them recommending individuals should comply with an officer’s commands to help de-escalate situations and then legally address the matters later.
Davis reflected on the narrative “if you do everything right, you’ll be fine,” but he noted that has not been the case for police brutality victims, as protests continue to draw attention to the most recent cases.
The panelists said the protests are just the tip of the iceberg, but the dialog must continue.