In November, Raleigh will hold six “community dialogue” sessions to hear if residents think the city needs a police accountability board and how they think such a board should look and function.
But not everyone on the council appeared to be in favor of moving forward with the process during a staff presentation on Tuesday, including outgoing Mayor Nancy McFarlane and council member Dickie Thompson. And some community activists felt like the sessions were a delay tactic by a council that has dragged its feet for years.
Calls for police accountability increased in volume after the death of Soheil Mojarrad, a man with mental illness who was shot eight times by a Raleigh police officer who was later cleared of wrongdoing.
The council has had enough community input, says Dawn Blagrove, director of the Carolina Justice Policy Center, including from activists who have crowded council meetings demanding accountability. She says the council has everything it needs to create an accountability board. It’s simply chosen not to do so.
“These so-called talking sessions are a stall tactic,” Blagrove says. “I think that this city council has no intention of taking seriously the very real concerns of the black and brown people of the city of Raleigh.”
The sessions will take place the third week in November and include refreshments, a staff presentation, and an hour of roundtable and group discussions.
This spring, city staff members presented several options to the council and recommended an oversight board that combined city staffers with civilians—a so-called hybrid model that critics say won’t have the autonomy of a citizen board. The city’s Human Relations Committee unanimously recommended creating a board with investigatory and subpoena power last December—the kind sought by activists with the Police Accountability Community Taskforce— but the staff did not present that recommendation to the council.
Such an oversight board would require changes to state law.
McFarlane, who has previously clashed with PACT, expressed concern Tuesday about how the process would affect police officers.
“I still have serious reservations about this process because I really feel that the small but very vocal group of people that are continually calling for this are driving this,” she said. “I am concerned about the message this sends to our police officers, who have a very difficult job and the things they deal with every day.”
Thompson, who opposes a police oversight board, took issue with the fact that two sessions were planned in District C—which includes the largely African American neighborhoods of Southeast Raleigh—while the other districts had one each. He worried that residents in his District A who don’t want a board wouldn’t be heard proportionately.
He also claimed the council was rewarding “bad behavior” by acquiescing to the activists.
“I feel like this council, at times, is knuckling under these folks to try and appease them,” Thompson said. “I don’t believe in appeasing bad behavior. I believe our police department does a good job.”
Blagrove says she was taken aback by both McFarlane’s and Thompson’s comments.
“That [McFarlane] is more concerned about the feelings of law enforcement than she is about the safety of people in Southeast Raleigh and other parts of the city that are disproportionately impacted by police misconduct and violence is quite frankly abhorrent,” Blagrove says, adding that Thompson’s reference to “bad behavior,” was “not even thinly veiled dog-whistle language.”
On December 2, McFarlane and Thompson—as well as council members Stef Mendell, Kay Crowder, and Russ Stephenson, who lost their re-election bids earlier this month—will leave the council. They’ll be replaced by Mayor-elect Mary-Ann Baldwin and council members-elect Patrick Buffkin, David Knight, Saige Martin, and Jonathan Melton.
In responses to a pre-election survey from the ACLU, Baldwin, Buffkin, and council member Nicole Stewart said opposed a police oversight board with investigatory, subpoena, and disciplinary powers. Martin, Melton, Knight, and David Cox responded they supported such a board. District C council member Corey Branch’s answer was unclear.
While Blagrove hopes the new council takes a fresh approach, she’s not counting on it.
“I am not optimistic,” Blagrove says. “I think we can only expect to see more incidences of troubling interactions for people of color and law enforcement because the city council, whose job it is to create and set policy for the Raleigh Police Department, is sending a message that the police in Raleigh have a blank check to conduct themselves however they see fit.”
The council took no action to change the meeting schedule on Tuesday.
Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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