The events in Ferguson, MO. is becoming a measuring-stick of many communities. Those who do not take measure or do not examine themselves in light of these events are simply missing the boat and I believe setting the stage for unrest in their own communities.
The following is a brief examination of the similarities between Ferguson MO. and 1 zip code similarly situated to Ferguson. We believe that a TRUE Citizen's review Board calling on multiple community members and partners to address the issues, is the way to both prepare for and address all things. When examining the numbers on Pg. 2, one cannot understate the significant and terrible similarities between Ferguson and Peoria:
We were intrigued to read a recent article in the Peoria Journal Star outlining an "advisory committee on police-community relations". While the effort to sound as if Peoria is doing much work on patching police/community relationships sounds good, there is little as it pertains to the bite of the program because of the apparent conflicts of interests, limited scope of inclusion and selective issues that the committee addresses.
One could ask, what issues has this so called "committee" addressed? How has this committee "advised" the police? Did it "advise former Peoria Police Chief Settingsgaard to drop its "broken windows" community policing strategy? Has it undertaken to address the multiple complaints of police overreach since the City adopted the "Don't Shoot" strategy to combat gangs and gang activity? Then, why would the citizens, especially them in highly affected areas, not know the benefits and objectives of such a committee and be encouraged to be involved in addressing issues that affect us all?
In 2009, our office received multiple complaints about the interaction of Peoria police with its citizenry. There were over 8 Black men that contacted our office who had highly negative experiences with the police in which they felt that their rights and civil liberties were violated. Although the police claimed that they had not initially received complaints of these gentlemen, I was told that their complaints weren't "real" and that I (Pastor Burnett) was just "stirring things up" by the former police Chief Settingsgaard.
When we filed the multiple complaints, the former Chief found out that they were "real". Each complaint was addressed and every person leveling a complaint was answered satisfactorily. Whether the end result was desirable or not for each individual, the men were glad to see that at least their issues were taken seriously.
It is that flippant attitude toward citizens of low estate and especially Black citizens, that the CCIRB is designed to address. Though every complaint may not have merit, every complaint should be heard and taken seriously. In addition, more than Black citizens are affected by these sort of events and occurrences. Community policing is an issue for EVERY man, woman and child of this city. We should ask, what can we expect when we are stopped? Is it simply street justice, or can we expect to be handled professionally and with integrity? In addition, we should ask, what type of persons are on our force? What is the temperament of officers, and what tests have been administered to gauge that so that officer rotations can be made in a corresponding manner?
While I believe that a city should reflect the makeup of it's citizenry, it is a DEAD issue to assume that adding Black officers, or officers of diverse races solves or even addresses the problem with Peoria policing. We advised Settingsgaard to drop the "broken windows" community policing strategy. We have no idea whether that policy continues to exist in Peoria, but we do know this:
Currently there are a series of complaints dealing with the overreach of Peoria Police in the implementation of its "Don't Shoot" tactic to target gang members. The complaints that we have received are not from the criminals and gang-members themselves, but from non-criminal family members in how the program is being administrated. There are some serious issues that could lead to more intense and negative relationships on the streets. That coupled with the low economic environment of certain segments of our community creates a "powder-keg" environment that the so called "advisory committee" will not touch and or address. I believe that failure to address such serious issues is due to conflicts of interest and desire to cater to politics and political issues.
We will not be so deceived and or entangled. implement a TRUE plan that INCLUDES All citizens of Peoria and asks the tough questions and formulates real and right now strategies that uplift the community. The CCIRB is a true Citizens sponsored plan that includes everyone that has interest in insuring that our community does not suffer unrest and that issues are addressed in a forthright manner.
Pastor H. Burnett