Open Letter to Mayors & City Managers

Dear American Mayors and City Managers,

We, the People of the United States, populate the cities, towns and counties that you oversee. We appreciate your leadership and your efforts to keep our cities safe and prosperous. Like you, we want our children to attend high-quality schools. We want to work and shop in safe areas. We want to worship where we feel compelled to worship. We want to love who we love. We do not want to be brutalized and killed by police officers simply because some of us have brown skin.

Perhaps more than anyone else in the country, you are uniquely positioned to transform our nation’s police departments. Before we list the steps that you can take to transform your police department, we want to assert our support for the continued existence of your police department. We are not naïve. We do not want to defund the police. Without justice and order, there will be chaos. There will always be criminal elements in our cities and towns. Consequently, there will always be murders, robberies, child sexual abuse, gang violence, domestic violence, active shooters and so on. Police officers are the tools through which the government mitigates criminal activity. Police officers function as on-the-spot arbitrators of disputes and dispensers of the equal justice that our Constitution guarantees us all. Not only do we need police officers, we need them to be highly functional, just, fair and efficient. Following this line of thought, we must reject racially biased police officers.

Before you can transform American policing, you must first understand the officers with hidden, white supremacist views. These officers are numerous and cannot be identified by sight but are the root of the police brutality problem. Many police departments across the country have a pervasive cultural climate that allows white supremacy to fester. Many officers have racist upbringings and genuinely do not understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to Black Lives Matter or similar social movements. These officers hold racist views deep within their hearts. No, they do not speak of such things in mixed company or openly in the public. But, secretly, in their homes, with their friends, they tell racist jokes and comfortably use racial epithets to refer to the very people they are sworn to protect and serve.

Implicit, unconscious bias born of white supremacy is a metastatic cancer. It cannot be surgically excised piecemeal. It must be addressed systemically. To transform police departments, mayors and city managers must force a cultural shift within those departments. Culture is about people and what they believe and how they live when no one is watching. To this end, mayors must recruit and retain good police officers. What are good police officers? Good police officers are the well-educated ones. We understand that young people with bachelor’s and master’s degrees generally do not want to become police officers. Instead of accepting this reality, mayors and city managers should question it. We the People will answer this question for you: It is the pay; you do not pay them enough. So, change this part. Do not create barriers to progress by saying that increased officer salaries are not in the budget. Budgets are moral documents that directly reflect your priorities. Instead of purchasing another military tactical vehicle for your department, pay new officers—the ones with bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice—the median salary for your state. In this way, you would probably get a better police officer than someone with no degree in criminal justice, some college or military service who was bullied in high school.

Do not get us wrong, not every police department is steeped in racist culture. Unfortunately, far too many of them are. American racism dates back decades and centuries. This psychological disease does not afflict only police departments but many other sectors of our society. Some of you mayors has publicly expressed fighting racism in other areas of society to indirectly reduce police brutality. Please do not dilute your attention, resolve and limited resources trying to combat racist policies and norms schools, banks, hospitals and corporations. While such efforts would be admirable, bankers, doctors and business executives are not out patrolling the streets with military-style weapons and the legal right to kill; police officers are. Address implicit, unconscious racism within your police departments first.

By now, it appears to be clear that Congress will never pass any bills that result in substantial police reform. Merely banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants falls woefully short of combating implicit racism or white supremacy. Incentivizing racist police officers to not choke suspects is laughable and is an example of lip service or half measures. Half measures and lip service will not transform anything and only guarantees continued police brutality.  We need, in fact we demand massive, structural change. We demand it now, not tomorrow or next year. Justice delayed is justice denied. In 2019, when three white police officers were videotaped killing 23-year-old introvert, master violinist and–most noteworthily–black Elijah McClain, the district attorney effectively hid this murder. The coroner fell in line with white supremacist norms and decided that the cause of Elijah’s videotaped death was “undetermined.” Had it not been for the subsequent police murder of George Floyd and the resultant world-wide uprisings for justice, the district attorney and the Denver police department would have successfully swept Elijah’s murder under the rug. Even now, with worldwide attention and scrutiny on this videotaped, police brutality death, the three white police officers have not faced any real justice. Each officer has been given paid leave. Yes! Paid leave, otherwise known as vacation. The district attorney states that he is trying to “figure out” if the dead, pacifist black man had any of his rights violated. This is the institutionalized racism that centuries of white supremacy have firmly established.

Therefore, We protest. Yes! We are angry. We do not care about your fancy, esoteric legal jargon such as “qualified immunity.” We know that qualified immunity is simply a product of institutionalized racism that directly nullifies the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. White supremacist judges, district attorneys and police commissioners invariably misinterpret and misapply qualified immunity in ways that put rogue police officers above the law. Even in the very definition of qualified immunity, police officers accused of using excessive force are only shielded from paying financial damages to victims so long as the police officer did not violate clearly established law. The three white police officers in Denver clearly violated Elijah’s human and civil rights to be secure in his person. Elijah McClain broke no law; he did not do anything even slightly illegal. But still the three police officers detained him, choked him, lied about him reaching for their gun, had him injected with Ketamine and caused his death. Does the US Constitution not guarantee Elijah McClain the right to be free from unreasonable searches and to be secure in his person? It does.

Mayors and city managers, please stop bragging about improvements in your police department that have occurred under federal consent decrees. Such decrees mandate procedural and policy changes but do nothing to affect the hearts and minds of the police officers. Besides, consent decrees are highly politicized, expensive to implement and can never be maintained indefinitely. A better approach to implementing transformative departmental change is to adopt the Ethical Policing is Courageous (EPIC) model that the Memphis police department has adopted.

We urge mayors and city managers to implement the following steps to transform American policing over the next 10 years:

  1. Immediately write and publicize a new hiring policy where all new applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. You have the authority to write this policy today. It does not take any outlays of cash or budget resolutions. It simply requires YOU to have moral courage and act. As Mark Twain said, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” BDRPolice.org will help you recruit these degreed candidates free of charge. We will pick up the recruiting costs. Just click on this Candidates with Bachelor Degree in CJ link and request a list of these candidates. These candidates will proactively contact your department. Please handle them with professionalism and care.
  1. Increase salaries for your police officers who hold at least a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Pay them at least the median salary for your state. If you need temporary help supplementing these officers’ salaries until you can make the necessary budgetary changes, please let us know by clicking here on our BDR-Certified Salary Supplementation Request
  1. Create a position called Mental Health Officer within your departments. These mental health officers will need to first obtain master’s degrees in social work as LCSWs and complete the police academy like every other police officer. BDRPolice.org will recruit these LCSWs for you. Just click on this Mental Health Officer Candidate link and request LCSW candidates for your department.
  1. Immediately mandate all your existing police officers who do not hold bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice to enroll in an accredited, online criminal justice program. These officers must earn their bachelor’s degree within 6 years. Be brave when you mandate this; it will be an uphill battle. Besides your local police unions and other police associations, your fiercest opponents will be the non-degreed officers themselves. These officers are comfortable with their current level of education/experience and see no need for further improvement. If they resist further education and progress, then they have identified themselves as part of the problem. Fire them. Make room for new, open-minded officers who are clearly part of the solution. Some of your non-degreed officers will procrastinate and offer excuses for not enrolling. They might even secretly or overtly consort with their union representatives to sue your department. Be prepared for this specific lawsuit. It will be a worthwhile public legal battle because you will be fighting for education and progress; they will be fighting for the opposite.
  1. Cut all legal, formal and informal ties with your local police union. Police unions masquerade as legitimate collective bargaining organizations. But in reality, they are organized criminal enterprises that protect rogue officers from independent judicial review, limit your operational authority and are formidable barriers to police reform. If you conduct even a cursory investigation of many police unions, you will find both overt and covert alignment with many white supremacist groups. If police unions remain active and socially accepted legal entities, they will vigorously fight against and undermine true police reform. They will do most of their fighting behind closed doors, in smoke-filled rooms, in governors’ mansions or in congressional halls. So, beware of your police unions. Be prepared to fight them in court and in the court of public opinion. Help us organize to outlaw police unions at the federal level.

For those mayors and city managers who cannot comprehend the necessity of educating our police force and establishing mental health officers in every police department, we anticipate significant opposition from you. Welcome to this fight. We will work every minute of every day to organize and vote you out of office. We will do everything to make sure that you no longer stand in the way of meaningful, permanent police reform.