Since May 31 2020, the Geneva has seen daily Black Lives Matter marches and gatherings hosted by BLM Geneva: The People’s Peaceful Protest. Can you talk about how you have been involved, and why have been involved, in the movement and the marches here in the city?
I, like most people in the world, was deeply and personally affected by the video of George Floyd dying right before our eyes. When I heard there was a gathering in Geneva I immediately got ready to go. At that time I understood there were bigger cities experiencing looting and violence, but this is Geneva. I didn’t think for a second anything bad would be happening here, and if anyone tried to start a ruckus I wanted to be down there to stop it. And as we all know, it ended up being a beautiful event of solidarity and cries for simply justice and accountability. Just the day before I attended the event in Rochester, which ended with me getting unnecessarily shot on the with a rubber bullet while helping others who got caught in tear gas. That whole experience reinforced for me that something is deeply wrong in our country. And it’s always been here and it’s not going away unless we do something.
As for my role in the Peoples Peaceful Protest here in Geneva, I’ve just tried to be a connector and a megaphone for the amazing young people who organized this. I came to the table with a lot of resources to get their message out there, to the right people, to make the changes they’re demanding. So that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. Just getting the word out, as well as reading the policies, the history and the research to steer us in the right direction.
If someone has never been to one of the marches in Geneva, how would you describe to that person what’s been happening at the marches so far?
Unity. It’s complete unity. I’ve never felt so close to people I’ve never met before. Some people are coming from all over the area because we’re really leading the charge within a 20-mile radius. I feel like our chants turn into songs. People are on their porches waving signs, in their cars honking their horns. It’s like a really fun party that we all wish we didn’t have to have. It’s excruciatingly sad to yell the names of people I’ve seen killed over and over again on video, but it feels like we’re all grieving together and helping each-other deal with this realization that things need to change.
We usually take different routes through the community. We’re peaceful and respectful of social distancing. The organizers bring extra water and hand sanitizer for people. Some drivers that see us marching follow behind and honk their horns to our chants! We aren’t looting or saying “fire all the police” like our City Councilor Pealer described to the public. It’s something I look forward to, full of optimism and hope, but I’ll be glad when we don’t have to do it anymore.
A list of demands from The Peoples Peaceful Protest of Geneva has been recently made public. The petition aims to “reform the Geneva Police Department policy and procedure to preemptively and proactively maintain peace, best practices, and ultimately the safety of all of our citizens.”
There are 8 altogether. And if anyone would like to read it and sign it, it’s on Change.org. Just search: Reform Geneva Police Department. Someone in the community was even awesome enough to translate it all into Spanish! Along with the demands we also included a detailed list of strongly suggested revisions to our police department’s Use of Force policy. We didn’t want t leave any stone unturned or any loopholes.
Those 8 demands are being made into resolutions and ordinances that we will be purposing to city council to be approved as soon as feasibly possible.
Can you speak about the process that resulted in the list of demands being created?
These demands started out as a brainstorm list from the organizers identifying local issues with policing and institutional racism. Then we started giving protesters cards, while wearing gloves of course, to give their feedback and suggestions during the marches. Tons of people messaged us online to give their feedback and tell their personal stories. Then in the background, a whole team of people in the community got together and started collecting piles of data and summarizing articles on police reform! It was amazing! We brought all of that together and boiled it down to those 8 common sense, research based demands to change how we police our city and treat the underlying issues that make a cop’s job harder.
The request for a civilian-led oversight board is at the top of the list of demands. The chief of police has said he doesn’t think we need a civilian review board. Can you speak about why a PAB/CRB is so important?
I guess I don’t understand why the chief of police, of all people, is against being held accountable. In my mind, if you aren’t for being held accountable then you complicit with doing something wrong. According to our police department’s reporting and discipline policies, the buck stops at the chief of police. The chief gets every complaint and deals with it how he sees fit. And we all know that the police, police unions and police families are really close. So it’s like if you broke the law and the judge and jury were your own family. It’s a huge conflict of interest. We’re seeing all over the news, all over the US how police departments cover up murders and misconduct to protect their own, even when the whole thing is black and white murder on video tape. No pun intended.
Everything starts with accountability. It’s why the Community Compact hasn’t worked at all. Not to discredit the hard work people have put into it, but it’s just one small piece of the solution and it’s mostly about making cops look good, not be good. Not too long ago a cop choked a woman, before that the community uncovered a well-known white supremist in their ranks. And before THAT they killed an unarmed man named Corey Jackson and left him handcuffed to bleed out in the street. Community trust in police is at an all time low, and the only thing that’s gonna change that is people knowing someone is policing the police.
This isn’t even just my logic. When city council tried to bring the compact back to life, they paid a large sum of tax payer money to have a specialist named Noble Wray come in and analyze how we could do things better. He told them THEN that a PAB with disciplinary powers was the way to go. If you aren’t gonna listen to the experts, then why did we pay the him all that damn money!?
Do you have any other comments or insights about the list of demands?
Some people have asked if we are willing to compromise on our demands. I say absolutely not. All these pieces work together. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), a well-functioning department exists when there’s good training, cops doing their duties well, and have clear accountability. If any of those pieces are missing, it’s like a two-legged table, it’s gonna fall over eventually.
If anyone reading this would like to support the movement, how can they help?
Please sign our petition on Change.org. Please attend any marches or events that you can! We post all our events on our Facebook page, “BLM Geneva: The People’s Peaceful Protest”. If you can’t march, drive behind us and honk your horns! Call your city councilor and demand they support our proposals at the next city council meeting. Most of all, stay informed. Be good to each other. We’re not doing all this for ourselves, we’re doing it for each other.