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City Council Committe on Public Safety and the Judiciary 
Hearing on the administration's public safety initiatives
Testimony of the Rev. Mark A. Thompson, NAACP
June 16, 2008

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Testimony of the Rev. Mark A. Thompson
Chair, NAACP Metropolitan Police & Criminal Justice Review Task Force
DC Council Committee on the Judiciary
June 16, 2008

The NAACP Metropolitan Police & Criminal Justice Review Task Force of the DC Branch has raised objection to the Metropolitan Police Departments (MPD) Neighborhood Safety Zone Intitiative implemented on 6/7/08 in the form of military-style checkpoints in the Trinidad NE neighborhood.

It is my understanding that prior to the checkpoints, the NE community and MPD reached an agreement that would have deployed 100 additional officers in Trinidad, including foot patrols. After the spike in murders, MPD announced checkpoints without seeking the advice and consent of the community. MPD also did not seek the advice of its own Fair & Inclusive Policing (FIP) Task Force, of which the NAACP Police Task Force is a member.

The (FIP) Task Force is the new name of the Biased Policing Task Force, which was instrumental in establishing and overseeing MPDs first study on racial profiling. I sent Chief Cathy Lanier nearly a year ago when she threatened to dissolve the Biased Policing Task Force upon her appointment as Chief. Thankfully, she changed her mind, and the Biased Policing Task Force continues to exist under its new name, the FIP Task Force. Again, MPD did not consult with the FIP Task Force in mandating that Trinidad, first, and then any other area MPD chooses, be subject to checkpoints.

The organizations within the NAACP Police Task Force (who are also members of the FIP Task Force) are opposed to the checkpoints and the lack of community input in the decision. Those organizations include the National Black Police Association, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance. The ACLU is gathering plaintiffs in Trinidad for its own lawsuit. And the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund is also considering a lawsuit, and is in close consultation with the NAACP Police Task Force. Of course, there are constitutional issues. And there have been media reports where MPD has acknowledged insufficient training of officers on duty at the checkpoints. While the NAACP Police Task Force and the Police Union rarely agree, even the Union has voiced its opposition on behalf of its members.

There should have been consultation with the community and with the FIP Task Force prior to this extreme measure. While I lament the loss of life and pray for the victims and survivors, I believe we must stand not only against the injustice of crime, but also stand against the injustice of criminalization. The African American community is criminalized and stereotyped enough. Checkpoints further stigmatize our community. Checkpoints demoralize innocent people and do not necessarily catch criminals. When there is resort to such an extreme, it suggests that the community has no self-determined solutions. Citizens become mere spectators between law enforcement and criminals with no real input in decisions to ameliorate the conditions of the community.

Granted, there are those members of the Trinidad community who support the checkpoints, most likely out of fear and desperation. This is completely understandable. But this highlights a division in our community between those who favor the checkpoints, and those who do not favor the checkpoints.. At this point there is no scientific measure of which side has more community members. But the division brought about by the differing opinions is notable.

The MPD has created division within the Trinidad community by not carefully seeking input and consensus for a solution to the violence. I contend that those who are fearful and desperate enough to endorse checkpoints, are out of touch with the fear and desperation that causes our young people to consider lives of crime. These divisive actions, and our divided response perpetuates the very state of confusion in the African American community that leaves us vulnerable to crime. To divide is to conquer. Our childrenís education in the public schools has already been taken out of our hands. Will we allow our input in our own quality of life to be taken over as well?

I subscribe to the late African American psychologist Amos Wilsonís book entitled, Black-on-Black Violence. He writes:

"Police personnel should be taught to perceive and acquit themselves not as occupiers of the community, not as its rulers or as enforcers, but as its servants, employees, as its representatives, and who along with the members of that community are mutually and co-equally concerned and involved in protecting its best interests...the police and criminal justice establishments must respect the intelligence of African American communities and exhibit full confidence in a particular communityís capacity to know how best to solve its social problems. They, therefore, should be prepared to actively listen to the community and diligently support its efforts, not paternalistically and autocratically dictate solutions to its problems."

Checkpoints donít work in solving crime. They perpetuate stereotypes that make crime a self-fulfilling prophecy. Letís place a checkpoint at the causes of crime: poverty, unemployment and closing schools.

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