Statement on behalf of the
American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia
before the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
Public Oversight Roundtable on Exploring Non-Law Enforcement Alternatives to Meeting Community Needs
Monica Hopkins, Executive Director
October 17, 2020
I am Monica Hopkins, Executive Director of the ACLU-DC. We are giving testimony today recognizing the ACLU-DC is not a direct-service provider nor are we the expert. We want to make way for directly impacted people and organizations that work directly with impacted communities.
The ACLU-DC has testified ad nauseam about the trauma, violence and ineffectiveness of policing in DC. We have testified about the importance of public health and economic rather than carceral approaches to public safety.
However, the best place to start this conversation is with the very title of this hearing “Law Enforcement Alternatives” which supposes that police are and will continue to be the very center of public safety.
We have yet to actually ask the fundamental question “what is public safety/community care?” then “what systems need to be in place?” and finally, “how do we fund those systems?”
This Council must show political will to DECENTER police, divest from policing and reinvest in communities - and that is fundamentally about envisioning something beyond our existing responses. That starts with the Council must take seriously the criminal code revisions that decriminalize behaviors and situations that are better served through a public health or other system response. The criminal code is the very hammer the Council hands to the police to see every issue as a nail. Stop incentivizing growth of MPDs budget through things like civil asset forfeiture. And you must hold the Mayor accountable to appoint a new chief of police that shares the vision of decentering police.
To do that we must also ask other questions:
- What is the purpose of these systems and what do we want them to do?
- How do we ensure that the system does not shuffle more individuals into the carceral system if they refuse or are not ready for services?
- How do we ensure that the system is not coercive and recognizes individuals experiencing a crisis situation still have agency and self-determination?
- How does the system include/center/collaborate with directly impacted communities?
- How is accountability measured?
It's important to learn from other models however any system must be contextualized to DC. And we must first do a better job of investing in the programs and services we currently have that work - and centering the creativity of impacted DC residents. For example, increasing access to health services, opportunities for gainful and sustainable employment, providing more robust housing supports, and expanding systems that help people thrive.
Finally, the DC budget is a MORAL document that not only illustrates where our priorities lie, but who we think matters. The Council should prepare itself to not make unfunded mandates and be dogged in evaluating and holding accountable agencies, including MPD, doing a poor job of providing services or executing programs.
This should not be about building more systems around police and carceral systems, but rather co-creating and investing in a different system of public safety, health and economic viability for all DC residents.
So the question on the table is: Are you prepared to DECENTER police? If so, we are here to help.