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The Case for Police and Criminal Justice Reform

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

   We are wedded to our systems as they exist. A huge hurdle is just getting people to think differently than we have.     -  RaShya Gee


Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

Americans, provoked by recent police-involved killings of George Perry Floyd, Jr., Breonna Taylor, and others, have declared a war against racism. The fight, significantly, has shifted from calling out individual bias to reforming entire systems of bias and bigotry. The demand for fairness and equity in the criminal justice system lies at the center of the current conflict.

In this article, I spoke with local attorney RaShya Ghee, who brings an activist, academic, and legal praxis perspective on solutions needed for institutional change. Ghee teaches Race and American Law at the University of Toledo Law School and heads RaShya Law, focusing on family law and criminal defense.

: Iím appreciative that you took some time to speak with us.  Please tell our readers a little bit about you.

Ghee:  Iím born and raised here in Toledo, Ohio.  I went to Central Catholic and then to the University of Toledo for a bachelorís degree in political science and an MBA in finance. Then I went to the University of Minnesota for law school.  I have been in private practice and always been interested in race and racism, particularly how it interacts with the law - what the law does to combat it, how the law doesnít do enough, and what the law has historically done to protect racism.  Thatís been my work for at least 10 years now.

RaShya Ghee

For a long time outside of academic and activism pockets, this work wasnít talked about or being done outside of the people who were doing it or interested in it intellectually.  What weíve been saying for all this time, everyone else is starting to see. So now, people say, ďOh, the stuff youíve been saying all along, can you come tell us more so we can fix it?Ē  So thatís my background in a nutshell.

Perryman: How prevalent is police misconduct in Toledo?

: I donít know if I can give you statistics because how would we know?  Thatís part of the work thatís being done. We need mechanisms in place that can accurately record these incidents because people are significantly less likely to report police brutality, in part, because of how our system is structured.  My guess is that whatever the numbers are, theyíre severely underreported.

Perryman: Why are people hesitant?

Ghee: One, you have to go to the police to complain about the police, so thatís intimidating.  Second, if youíve been in trouble or have contact with the law, you are worried about police retaliating against you.  Third, you worry about not being believed, especially if you have a record.  Also, police departments, as a whole, work not to make the information publicly accessible. 

Perryman: What are some inequities in the entire criminal justice system that should be of concern to us as a community?

Ghee:  Even locally, we found that black folks were significantly more likely to be charged with offenses like disorderly conduct, possession of drugs, or obstructing official business, these kinds of subjective offenses.  African Americans are significantly more likely to have charges, be charged, or prosecuted. Blacks are significantly more likely to receive confinement as a punishment and receive longer sentences. And, they are less likely to be referred to diversion programs, or have their judicial release request granted.  Almost every turn in the criminal justice system from their interactions with law enforcement to the charges that prosecutors decide to bring, to the way theyíre sentenced, weíre just more likely in all the wrong ways and less likely in all the right ones.

Perryman: Looking at the role of the public defenderís office, would you say that there is a crisis in defense of the poor and indigent?

Ghee:  Yes, but I will not say that that exists because of the quality of public defender.  I know people whoíve been public defenders who I believe are incredibly competent and incredibly passionate.  What I tell people is, it doesnít matter how skilled you are as a carpenter. If I give you a broken hammer and a dull screwdriver, what you can accomplish is limited. The crisis isnít because public defenders arenít competent so much as because they are overburdened and under-resourced. 

Perryman: What are some policy change recommendations necessary to bring fairness and equity in the criminal justice system?

Ghee: There are four major areas that I think where reforms are necessary.  First is policing, second is our courts, third is our jails and prisons and our laws is fourth.  Each area has its own areas of concern. 

Perryman: Letís start with policing.

Ghee: We keep creating police without any rhyme or reason.  We donít know why we need more police.  No science that says you need two police officers for every block in the city or whatever. No oneís asking that question.  How many do we have, why isnít this enough? How do we know this isnít too much?  I think we need to take a serious look at whether our public safety model presently exists in our societyís best interest when you have entire subsets of the population saying that itís not. 

We know what causes violent crime.  We know unemployment causes violent crime. We know lack of education increases the likelihood that youíll be engaged in criminal conduct, even if not violent, in other forms of criminal behavior.  And so, we have answers. People need jobs and quality education. Why are we not investing more in those spaces instead of putting more money into the police?  So, one of the first reforms that I would advocate for is - people hear Ďdefund the police,í and they think it means abolish the police. It does not.  It means to scale back this kind of punitive public safety model and think differently about public safety.  Think about how we can do preventative issues instead of reactive because thatís what the police is.  So, I think communities need to consider how they allocate their resources and compare budgets and think about other ways they can utilize the money for other things that communities need. 

I also think we need to demilitarize our police. Thereís no reason that police need tanks and bazookas and military-grade equipment for civilians. We need to ban warrior-style training, which terrifies officers and makes them believe that every encounter is likely to result in their death, thatís not healthy.  Also, police officers should have to carry their own liability insurance in the same way that lawyers, doctors, and most other professionals do. If they are found to have been misbehaving outside of protocols, the taxpayer should not have to pay for those payouts that they have to give to citizens, and right now, we do. 

Also, police need to reform reporting mechanisms. How officer misconduct is reported by citizens and is kept in records by the police, all of that needs to be more transparent and folks should be able to access it and figure out how many complaints of misconduct that a particular officer has and of what nature and from what neighborhoods.  Civilian review boards, we need it.  Whoís policing the police?  The idea that they are policing themselves, we know just isnít true.  Police departments operate like fraternities - like a closed, exclusive club that protects itself with a code of silence.  We need an independent body that has oversight to review claims of misconduct and recommend punishment. 

Perryman: How about the courts.

Ghee: Judgeís discretion in terms of sentencing is problematic.  We know that there are sentencing disparities.  Judges do and say all kinds of crazy inappropriate stuff, some of it on the record, some of it not.  Thereís no real judicial oversight for that.  Even when judges are found to have been misbehaving, the cases are just remanded, the cases are just reversed, but the judge doesnít get any punishment.  Thatís a problem. 

They also need to increase pipeline programs that support a diverse judiciary.  We need more people from poor backgrounds, we need more people of color on the bench.

Perryman: Talk about jails and prisons, which keep elderly and sick confined after they are no longer a threat to society.  Include how unaddressed violence in prisons affects people who come out and are never physically or mentally the same.

Ghee:   Youíre right; everything you said.  If you were saying it, Iíd be behind you going ďwhat he said.Ē Jails and prisons are overcrowded and donít have adequate medical care. They donít have adequate resources for inmate enrichment.  I think the other thing I want people to think about is how connected all these systems are.  I canít tell you how many times Iíve filed judicial releases that I felt should have been granted.  The person served the majority of their time, theyíve done all these great things while they were in, thereís no research that additional time will make this person less likely to re-offend and the court just says no.  No rhyme or reason for not letting that person out.  Itís a problem. 

And then laws; We pass more stringent laws, Ohio particularly. Everywhere else in the country is passing more aggressive reform laws, and we are passing stricter, harsher laws that are designed to keep people in prison for longer.  Weíre one of the few states that havenít decriminalized marijuana.  I can talk for hours about all the things we need to do; itís a lot.

Perryman:  What is your perspective on community policing and its value?

Ghee:  I think that the idea of community policing is worthwhile.  Certainly, other scholars have advocated for this.  Police are less likely to abuse or react punitively to a neighbor or someone they know.  So, the idea is good, but I think that we start so many of these ideas from a place of neutrality, believing that we can move into the space with unacknowledging some of the kind of historical tensions that will make implementation difficult. 

The reality is that a majority of police departments are white or majority white, and there is a historical racial tension with the minority communities. Iíve said on multiple platforms that police have never been on the side of the black freedom struggle, from the time of slavery to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Era to the Black Power Movement to mass incarceration.  They have always been on the opposite side of black folksí freedom struggle. With that reality, and without addressing the underlying tension, Iím not sure itís possible.  Can you have an authentic cross-racial relationship without any authentic engagement about racial tensions?  I donít know if thatís possible.

Perryman: Thank you.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org


Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 07/30/20 11:06:47 -0400.



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