Statement on behalf of the
American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia
before the DC Council Committee of the Whole
FY 2021 Budget Oversight Hearing
by Monica Hopkins, Executive Director
June 18, 2020

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers. I am Monica Hopkins, Executive Director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia. With my limited time, I’d like to highlight some key points regarding the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) budget. We also submitted written testimony to the Judiciary Committee earlier this week that I have attached to this statement.

Chairman Mendelson, at yesterday’s Committee of the Whole hearing, you emphasized that "words matter" in response to community members who want to end the presence of police in our schools. We agree that words matter.

When MPD officers wear shirts that say "Police brutality or doing what their parents should have," or the MPD's so-called "gun recovery unit" stands as a group behind a banner of a skull and bones that says "Vest Up One in the Chamber," those words should matter. When an officer who is fired for a sexually invasive search of a Black man says at his disciplinary hearing that he has conducted "hundreds" of such searches in his career and is only being fired because of the viral video and ensuing public outrage, and when a veteran MPD sergeant says "I always told the people who work for me...don't be afraid to go up in the crotch" their words matter.

When the Chief of Police, in response to fairly mild police reforms tells his entire force that the D.C. Council "insulted us by insinuating that we are in need of reform" and says that a police accountability hearing “emboldens drug dealers” his words matter.

And finally, when thousands of community members testify before this Council year after year about the harms inflicted by police officers on them and their communities as a result of the color of their skin, that they are being targeted by police for stops, searches, and arrests, and that reforms are not enough, their words should matter to you, their District leaders.

These words are backed by data on MPD’s use of force, which almost doubled in the span of three years. They are backed up with NEAR Act stop-and-frisk data, which indicates racially unjust policing practices, where 89% of youth stopped were Black, and where, despite MPD’s claim that their enforcement is focused on gun recovery, only 0.6% of all stops resulted in the seizure of guns. And yet, the Mayor and Chief Newsham would have you believe that our police department is a model for the rest of the country. Perhaps we are better than before—but we are far from a “model.”

And when words and data do not lead to action from those in a position to do something about it, community members rightfully feel angry and unheard. Our over-reliance on police is a symptom of the systemic racism in all our government systems—and the Council and Mayor are the gatekeepers.

I run an organization. I tell my staff that our budget is our values in numbers. We pay attention to words and data; we also pay attention to actions — it is time to divest from MPD and reinvest in communities. If not now, when? It is time to say enough. Show us in the budget, in real numbers, with more than just words, that you value Black lives.