After meeting with leaders in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Gov. Tom Wolf announced several actions to improve law enforcement relations with the community and strength training and accountability.
“Today, I am taking steps to address concerns about community relations with law enforcement as well as strengthen accountability of our agencies,” Wolf said. “This effort will commence immediately.”
Wolf outlined multiple actions directed at meaningful reforms, many based on the 21st Century Policing Task Force, created in 2015 under President Obama in response to the Ferguson, Missouri death of black teen Michael Brown that set off weeks of protests.
Highlights of the recommendations include:
– Creation of a Deputy Inspector General within the Pennsylvania Office of State Inspector General focused on deterring, detecting, preventing and eradicating fraud, waste, misconduct and abuse amongst law enforcement agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction
– Creation of a Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Advisory Commission that reviews allegations of misconduct by law enforcement personnel under the governor’s jurisdiction
– Providing technical assistance to municipalities from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to encourage the creation of local citizen advisory boards
– Creation of a Racial and Ethnic Disparities Subcommittee under the Criminal Justice Advisory Committee at PCCD
– Reviewing Training and Education of Officers: All training academies for law enforcement must review current use of force training standards for law enforcement and form a workgroup to develop model training standards to ensure that all officers receive the best instruction in their interactions with the public; departments should be striving to obtain state and or national accreditation; accreditation is a key component in assisting departments in evaluation and improvement of their standards and practices
– Enhancing Officer Safety and Wellness: Enhancing current mental health initiatives and offering targeted mental health supports for officers to deal with trauma and reduce stigma for getting help
– Supporting Legislative Reforms: The governor will work with the legislature on reforms, including legislation proposed that provides for improved access to police videos, an oversight board for officer training and continuing education, a special prosecutor in deadly force cases, interdepartmental law enforcement hiring reform and PTSD evaluation for police officers
Earlier this week, members of the Police Reform Working Group, which includes state and local elected officials, the chief defender of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, as well as several attorneys, put forward proposals to address growing frustration with racism, oppression and rooting out law enforcement misconduct.
“We’ve addressed criminal justice reform on a bipartisan basis, and that’s what we’ll need to fix these longstanding inequities,” Wolf said. “And as we go forward, we need to address the looming, systemic failings that have created this situation.”
The governor also committed to addressing longstanding inequalities against people of color.
“I’m going to continue to fight for more education funding and for help for minority-owned businesses,” he said. “These fights do not have an end point, and we won’t know when we’ve won, but we have to keep going to make our commonwealth fairer and more equal for everyone.”
Additionally, the Pennsylvania Commissions on African American, Latino, Asian Pacific American, Women and LGBTQ Affairs, overseen by Wolf, released a joint statement honoring the memory of George Floyd and other Americans of color who have lost their lives to police violence, and denouncing indoctrinated racism, bigotry and sanctioned violence.
“In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, our nation has erupted into civil unrest. These protests are a byproduct of centuries of racism, bigotry and sanctioned violence against black and brown communities. The anger and frustration being expressed nationally by communities of color has been fueled by a federal administration that has shown a complete disregard for the wellbeing of its citizens. We stand with the families of those who have lost their lives or have been affected by police violence and empathize with the feelings of outrage at a system that has yet to change.
“To be a strong, successful community, we need every Pennsylvanians – that includes Pennsylvanians who are black. Amid deep grief and moral outrage, we see acts of grace and leadership. We are reminded that the Civil Rights Movement is not history because its great work is still unfinished. Every Pennsylvanian is called upon to take up this crucial work. We stand together in the presence of that righteous calling today.”
Jalila Parker, executive director of the governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs, stated: “We are witnessing a public outcry, a demand for America to acknowledge the institutional and systemic pain the black community has faced. We affirm the rights of those who march, stand or kneel. They are demonstrations of our collective grief; a tribute to all the black lives lost to police brutality, violent crime and COVID-19. Although social distancing prevents us from wrapping our arms around you, we will not be silent in our pain, grief, love and support.”
Luz Colon, executive director of the governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, stated: “GACLA expresses the sincerest condolences and deepest sympathies for the Floyd family and to all Americans directly and indirectly affected by racism against the black and brown communities across this great nation. Acts of bigotry, hatred and racism will not define or destroy us – they never have, they never will. We will conquer together and get through this with our collective resilience. We will prove that isolated acts of hatred cannot undo the bonds that have unified our communities for centuries.”
Mohan Seshadri, executive director of the governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, stated: “Just as so many of our black siblings stood with us over the past six months of COVID-19-inspired anti-Asian racism, we stand with our black communities across Pennsylvania and the nation as they lead protests aimed straight at the racism at the heart of our systems. We know that if Asian communities in Pennsylvania are to have all we need to be safe, healthy and strong, the same must be true of black and latinx communities, and we are committed to making that happen. We also hear the voices of Asian, black and latinx small businesses devastated not just by the past few days, but by months of pandemic. Many of those impacted are community elders, new immigrants and non-English speakers, and are therefore vulnerable to COVID-19, barely scraping by and lacking insurance. Our institutions should turn away from militarization, escalation and violence, and instead invest in our communities, ensure justice for all, and provide support to assist those affected with recovering from the past few days, as well as reverse decades of exploitation, disinvestment and neglect.”
Danielle Okai, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, stated: “What we’ve seen unfolding on our screens over the past couple of days is the continuance of a rich legacy of protest and uprising that Americans who are black have had to engage in since their first arrival on American shores. Study after study, as well as our lived experiences, reveal this undeniable fact: We live in a deeply, deeply unequal society. In Pennsylvania, as in many states, people who are black are much more likely to die at the hands of police than any other group of Pennsylvanians. This is unacceptable. As a black woman, I fear for my life, the lives of my loved ones, and the lives of all black Pennsylvanians. Martin Lurther King Jr. is beloved today, but in his time many feared his dogged pursuit of equality. Among the swells of protestors across our commonwealth, across our nation, and across the world marches the next generation of leaders – the next Fannie Lou Hamer, the next Ida B. Wells, the next June Jordan. Their struggle for peace will ensure a better world for us all.”
Rafael Alvarez Febo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, stated: “As June dawns on us, we are reminded that the Stonewall uprising was a riot, that those actions helped launch LGBTQ civil rights movements across the United States, and that they were led by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgender women of color, alongside other activists. We cannot separate what we celebrate as Pride Month from the crucial actions taken by citizens in search of justice in an unjust system. Although there has been a few instances of violence and property damage, the overwhelming majority of people have taken to the streets to peacefully demonstrate and express their First Amendment rights.”
The Commissions will continue to work closely with communities, stakeholders and Wolf to bring about the changes needed in the commonwealth for justice while preserving public safety.