opinion   |   column

COLUMN: Cities need to support civilian oversight boards



Jocques Clemmons was shot and killed Feb. 10 by Metro Police Officer Joshua Lippert in Nashville, TN. 

The shooting got incredible media attention and sparked an outcry from the community. Many called for a justification and deep investigation, but ultimately this outcry dissolved itself. 

What particularly interests me about this case was the community’s support for a civilian oversight board, an independent agency with the right to investigate citizen complaints about police. Members of the Nashville City Council spent months drafting legislation that would create this board. However, just last month it was voted down. 

The defining argument was there is not enough proof these civilian oversight boards actually work. Although this may be true, there is no evidence these boards do not work or are a hindrance to cities. 

There is little data on them because the boards that do exist across the country vary greatly due to individual cities’ needs and the different city councilmen drafting these pieces of legislation.

Although there may be little data on these oversight boards, in 2016 over 144 oversight agencies were identified across the country. 

These agencies do not spring up out of nowhere. They are formed because they are a desperate cry from the community formed by a lack of trust of their law enforcement. 

The injustice that runs through the nation’s law enforcement agencies has become outrageous. And even if police forces are acting justly, the gap between black and white Americans’ approval ratings is insane and in need of resolution. Pew Research Center reported in 2016 that black Americans are about half as likely as whites to have a positive view of police treatment of racial and ethnic groups or officers’ use of force.

And this does not go without reason; a study from Drexel University showed black people are nearly three times more likely than white people to die due to police action.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I think our police forces are, by and large, excellent resources full of brave men and women who adequately do their jobs. 

However, it is not right to say they are agencies that should be blindly trusted. When the people cry out for justice, our government needs to give it to them. If the people of any given city are wary of their law enforcement, then an extra check on this power is needed. Police forces are ultimately agencies to make communities feel safe, and if they fail to do so, then they are no longer organizations of justice. 

People all across the country need to raise their voices when they see injustice in their police forces. Likewise, representatives — just like the ones in Nashville, TN — ought to start representing the cries of their constituents by forming civilian oversight boards and similar checks on their local authorities. 

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