When I think about George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black people murdered by police, I don’t see one guilty party, but a failed system built to uphold the myth of white supremacy. 

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis cop who killed George Floyd, had more than a dozen complaints against him. At least two were nearly lethal, with one person saying he busted down a bathroom door and began beating him without provocation. In fact, the entire Minneapolis Police Department was investigated by the Department of Justice in 2015; the DOJ uncovered systemic failures and “provide[d] recommendations for needed improvements in police accountability.”

The MPD failed to follow many of these recommendations—and failed to keep cops like Chauvin off of the street. 

The issue is simple: A police department cannot be in charge of policing itself.

But a police department isn’t supposed to make those decisions, not in Minneapolis, and not here. It is one agency of a local government under the authority of—in Raleigh’s case—the city manager.

Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown’s boss is Ruffin Hall, whose boss is Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin. The latter two would have you believe that they are powerless to call for more accountability from the Raleigh Police Department. As Raleigh PACT and other activist groups have advocated for an oversight board, the first line to come out of City Hall is “only the General Assembly can create that sort of policy.”

That’s debatable. According to Dawn Blagrove, attorney and executive director of Emancipate NC, Governor Cooper could grant police oversight boards subpoena and investigatory power by executive order. She also told The State of Things that the city council determines who is the custodian of personnel files and that there’s “a provision inside of the North Carolina law that says that the city employee [can] put a waiver in their personnel file that says that the community can have access to it.”

It is important, then, to ask why these solutions have not been pursued. 

James Baldwin gives us a hint in a 1966 essay for The Nation titled “A Report from Occupied Territory”: “The police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function.”

If Mayor Baldwin has been clear about one thing, it is that she prizes Raleigh’s business owners, especially downtown. Capitalism requires an eager police force that targets marginalized people.

Data on the RPD’s traffic stops suggest that this is exactly what they have. A year after Deck-Brown and Hall took their positions in 2013, the percentage of searches during traffic stops involving Black people decreased to 60 percent. By 2019, however, they’d reached a 20-year high of 77 percent, and 92 percent of drivers on whom police used force last year were Black. 

There should have been mayhem the day that Hall blocked council members from viewing the police accountability recommendations drafted by the Human Relations Commission in May 2019. (Currently, there are five vacancies on the HRC. But instead of filling those seats, Baldwin has asked for staff for a report on the HRC’s “effectiveness.”)

Nearly everyone who participated in the special city council meeting on the protests last Thursday called for Deck-Brown’s resignation, and many also called for Baldwin’s resignation. But not a single person called for Hall to be fired. In Raleigh, the city manager runs daily operations. So both Baldwin and Hall allowed Deck-Brown’s police force to teargas and harass peaceful protesters last week. And if Deck-Brown were fired, the city manager would appoint her successor.

All of this reveals the city’s real mandate to the RPD: protect business interests by any means necessary. But this doesn’t apply only to the RPD—every layer of our municipal government is dedicated to this guiding principle. The police watch the purse, and City Hall watches their back. When they oppress—and eventually push out—the Black and the poor, Raleigh’s developers reap the economic benefit. The city then keeps the public’s calls for justice at bay and increases the police budget with the spoils.

We cannot in good conscience or logic call for the resignation of Deck-Brown and Mayor Baldwin without also calling for the resignation of Ruffin Hall. We must learn from the deadly miscarriage of justice that occurred in Minneapolis, and in our own city’s recent history.

The system has failed us. It is time to clean house.  

COURTNEY NAPIER is a Raleigh native, community activist, and co-host of the podcast Mothering on the Margins.

Comment on this column at backtalk@indyweek.com. 

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