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BLM Activists Demanded Police Accountability. In City After City, Voters Agreed.

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Mother Jones illustration; Getty

We may not yet know what the final tally of the presidential race will be, but when it comes to police reform, voters during this year’s election sent a clear message: It’s time to change how we think about public safety.

The nationwide protests that erupted this summer after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many other Black men and women showed that activists aren’t messing around with their demands to hold cops accountable. And they took that energy to the polls. Across the county, there were at least 20 ballot measures dealing with law enforcement reform—more than in previous elections—and all but one of them passed. “All of this is just a culmination of the years of organizing that has happened by Black folks,” Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, who leads the nonprofit Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, told Bloomberg CityLab last month.

Voters overwhelmingly approved checks on the power of police, as well as measures designed to invest in alternative responses to the social problems like mental health and homelessness at the root of crime. Here are some of the policing issues they weighed in on, from Ohio to California to Texas:

Police reform most frequently turned up on 2020 ballots in measures to strengthen police accountability, often by creating new government bodies to review complaints about police behavior or granting new powers to existing review boards. As election results came in on Tuesday and Wednesday, these initiatives proved overwhelmingly popular—voters approved them in at least 11 cities and counties in five states. None of the proposals earned less than two-thirds of the local vote.

In Portland, Oregon, for example, where anti-racist protesters clashed with police week after week this summer—and where police used tear gas and smoke grenades to crack down on demonstrators—82 percent of voters opted to dissolve the existing police review board. The new board created by Measure 26-217 will have sweeping powers to subpoena police documents, require officers to testify, and discipline or even fire officers, according to the Willamette Week.

And in Pennsylvania, two winning initiatives promise to strengthen oversight in cities with weak or historically ineffective review boards. In Philadelphia, where protests erupted last week over the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace, Jr, a 27-year-old Black man, voters authorized the city council to replace its old Police Advisory Commission with a new body—though it remains in the hands of city leaders if it will be better funded or more effective than the old one. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, voted to allow the city’s existing Citizen Police Review Board to compel police officers to cooperate with its investigations (the officers can now be fired if they don’t). The measure will also require police brass to wait for the review board’s recommendation before........

© Mother Jones

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