There’s a lot of debate about whether Harith Augustus should have been shot, which is sad to me, but I think we should not get too caught up in our disagreements all the time and instead focus on the facts: A man was fatally shot by the police; the police then came into our communty and used billy clubs to crack heads and threw people in jail; and a small and peaceful protest days later ended up with one badly injured and three arrested citizens. This all happened within one week. And where was the alderman?
Alderman Hairston was at a music event in another part of the ward. She does not explain why she didn’t come when she heard there was trouble. “I was where I was, and that’s the end of it,” she said in her ward meeting this month. But that’s not the end of it. Even now, the community has not yet had a town hall meeting about the event. We have not had a chance to come together. I am just going to say it: The community is in shock and is hurt by all these recent events, and neighborhood leadership has yet to step up, and I believe that is because the alderman has not stepped up.
Here’s the truth: The shooting of Harith was wrong and didn’t have to happen. The abuse of people that night by police was criminal and beyond all acceptable boundaries of behavior. The protestors who were arrested later in the week had their rights violated. We need to stand together and we need to fight for our constitutional rights of assembly, free speech, and to bear arms. And Hairston should be fighting on our behalf, and isn’t.
What we need is a new approach to local policing. It doesn’t take any laws changed or rewritten; it just takes more effort on the part of the alderman. From experience, I can tell you that most of the time, district commanders make a great effort to work with aldermen. The simple truth is that if the officers on 71st Street that day knew the street and who worked there and – let’s just be honest – were not afraid of Black people, a five-year-old girl’s father would be alive today. If the alderman requires a walk down the street for every new recruit to the beat where that person is introduced to the business owners and employees, that would eliminate some of the divide. An event where everyone could talk and get to know each other should also take place. A basic anti-racism training should be required, and maybe that is more than a lot of commanders would accept, but we have to push for more in a district where people are dying because police are escalating conflict instead of de-escalating it.
But these are bandaid solutions – they work for now, but situations are fluid and that will always be just one part of the solution. The system itself is a failure, and that is because of structural reasons as well as failed leadership. You can solve the failed leadership problem at the voting booth. You can help address the structural problems by supporting a Civilian Police Accountability Council. Call or email me, or visit my office at 2136 E. 71st St. for more information about CPAC.
Published by the Committee to Elect Gabriel Piemonte. Please visit the website to donate and support our efforts to achieve justice and renewal in the Fifth Ward.