After expressing their sorrow and condemning the killing of police officers, Together Baton Rouge made an announcement Tuesday.
“The Governor’s office and the Department of Justice have asked us – Together Baton Rouge – to give leadership to community policing,” Rev. Lee Wesley, one of the leaders of the cross-cultural interfaith organization stated.
The group’s first task? Getting cops and citizens talking.
“Unless relationships are established, there will be no changes,” Wesley said, adding, “So police officers need to get out of their cars and have one-on-one conversation with people in the community.”
The second part of their action plan involves working to move the Baton Rouge Police Department quickly toward becoming a force that better matches the community it serves.
“Baton Rouge Police Department – city police department – has been under a consent decree for a number of years.”
The 1980 federal consent decree requires 50-percent of police department vacancies to be filled with qualified African- Americans. The city itself is 54.5% black. At the time of the lawsuit, just ten percent of city police were African-American. Now, 36 years later, just 30 percent of Baton Rouge city cops are black.
“How we employ people in our law enforcement, how we vet them before we give them a badge and a gun, some changes need to be made in that regard,” Wesley told the assembled media.
The group will also push to have some citizen oversight of police actions, rather than just leaving that to Internal Affairs.
“It’s difficult to objectively evaluate yourself. Everytime I evaluate myself, I come out as a fine guy ,” Rev. Wesley said, eliciting laughter from the group members gathered, as well as from reporters.
Together Baton Rouge knows there will be resistance. One reason they announced their initiative Tuesday was a statement made by Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie during a Monday press conference regarding Sunday’s shooting that left three officers dead. Dabadie was applauding the accuracy of the SWAT marksman who killed Gavin Long.
“We’ve been questioned about our ‘militarized tactics’. This is why—because we are up against a force that is not playing by the rules.”
The “militarized tactics” that had garnered criticism – and a lawsuit by the ACLU – were the use of riot gear to quell protests over the death of Alton Sterling.
Rev. Wesley says the bottom line is Baton Rouge cannot go backward.
“Our goal as an organization is not to return to where we were prior to the killing of Alton Sterling. Our goal is not to return to business as usual. Our goal is to move us progressively forward.”