Advocates push for repeal of LEOBoR; PVD Mayor Elorza supports Senator Mack repeal bill“We’re not asking for defunding the police,” said State Senator Tiara Mack. “We’re not asking to abolish the police right now. We’re asking for the bare minimum – the sub basement of policy – which is the full repeal of a bill that does not allow the community to hold these systems accountable.”
Published on May 6, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s African American Ambassadors Group (AAAG) held a press conference on Thursday outside the Providence Public Safety Complex to announce their unanimous vote to support the full repeal of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBoR). See the announcement here: PVD Mayor’s African American Ambassadors Group supports full repeal of LEOBoR
Mayor Elorza did not attend the the press conference, but did release a statement in full support.
“I support Senate Bill 0773 that calls for the full repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights,” said Mayor Elorza. “LEOBOR places unnecessary hurdles on police chiefs’ ability to discipline their members and it limits what information can be made available to the public. I commend the efforts of Senator Tiara Mack and Representative Anastasia Williams to improve transparency and accountability in law enforcement agencies.”
State Senator Mack’s bill calls for a full repeal of LEOBoR, but Representative Williams’ bill in the House would only institute reforms in the law.
Rhode Island is one of only 18 states with LEOBoR, and the only state in New England. A few weeks ago Maryland repealed LEOBoR.
Justice Ameer Gaines, speaking on behalf of the AAAG, acted as emcee for the press conference, and began by introducing artist, organizer and poet Angel Newman.
“Over a year ago the African American Ambassadors Group came together to respond to the public health crisis that was facing our Black community as a result of COVID-19,” said Gaines. “But the public health crisis did not start with the pandemic. It started hundreds of years ago and it has been perpetuated for decades to create a racist system that has harmed Black people, harmed Black folks, harmed brown folks and immigrants – and now we have to recognize that policing is part of that public health system that has kept us oppressed and oppressed.”
“I want everyone to know that this is the people’s bill,” said Senator Tiara Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence). “This was the bill that was brought to me by the community who last summer marched for names like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Auberry and countless other names of Black individuals who have been lost to police brutality in our nation.
“We don’t have to look as far as Minnesota in order to find names. We have Rishod Gore, we have Germain right here in Rhode Island, who are victims of police not being held accountable for the role that they play in our communities,” continued Senator Mack. “We need to make sure that we are not only holding [police] accountable but that we’re listening to the people who marched for an entire summer so that we would hear the calls to hold our entire system accountable…
“We’re not asking for defunding the police. We’re not asking to abolish the police right now. We’re asking for the bare minimum – the sub basement of policy – which is the full repeal of a bill that does not allow the community to hold these systems accountable.”
Justice Gaines pointed out that LEOBoR is an extra layer of red tape that interferes with holding police officers accountable. Under LEOBoR the discipline hearing panel for an officer accused of misconduct consists of three people, one chosen by the chief, one chosen by the officer and one “neutral” party chosen by agreement between the other two panelist. Repealing LEOBoR would allow the police chief to determine appropriate disciplinary action.
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Senator Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence), a co-sponsor of Senator Mack’s bill, pointed out that no other public employees are granted the levels of employment and disciplinary protections given to police officers under LEOBoR. “It is long past time we repeal this law,” said Senator Bell.
“Police violence does happen in Rhode Island. It does happen in the City of Providence,” said Gaines. “And we know that our officers are often times not held to the standard to which the community feels they should be held accountable. That’s part of the issue. How do our public servants respond to the public? How do they take care of the public? And if they’re here to guarantee our safety, how do we make sure that we are safe from them…?”
AAAG member Vernon R Martin II read Mayor Elorza’s statement in support of repealing LEOBoR, adding that he “came into this process uninformed, but when I see how these things can be manipulated to get back to business as usual, it’s kind of frightening.”
“People say change takes time,” said Gaines. “But I believe that change takes courage. There should not be any administrative reason or any administrative barrier, for the reason that people on our streets are still harassed by folks who are meant to protect them.
Katherine Quinn, representing Barrington Interfaith Partners and the Barrington Equity Collaborative, noted that the issue is not just in Providence. LEOboR is state wide. “We ask Senator Coyne and Representative Knight to support this bill and help push it through. This legislation that currently exists is straight up racism… Our state just removed ‘Plantations’ from our state name… so we ask that we legislate and remove the plantations mentality from our policing and legislation.”
“For the past seven years I’ve struggled with not being able to understand why officers… who beat my son beyond recognition, on a basic routine traffic stop…” Were never held accountable said Suzette Cook from Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) spoke about her son, Joshua Robinson who was severely beaten in 2013 by Providence Police Officers. One of the officers in in the beating “managed to get, not even two weeks later, a promotion.”
“It is time for us to stop equating law enforcement with public safety,” said Gaines, wrapping up the press conference. “Public safety is how we maintain the health and wellbeing of every member of our community, every person in our state, each of our neighbors.
“What does public safety mean when we have homeless people who are harassed instead of housed? What does public safety mean when we have youth who cannot even go to their schools without a gun present in their building? What does it mean for public safety when we have people riding their bikes through the city and they are run into walls?
“Public safety is not how we enforce our laws, it’s about how we protect and support our community,” said Gaines. “And part of that means we must repeal the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights…”