SHAUN KING: What if All the Power Really Went to the People?

Shaun King & Kendi K
Aug 14, 2020 - 4:22

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“All power to the people!” was the famous rallying cry of the Black Panthers, a group of freedom fighters during the civil rights movement. The group was founded in Oakland, California in response to the police brutality being committed against Black and Brown bodies. Their mission was clear: in order for America to call itself a free country–a democracy–power must be in the hands of its citizens, not it’s law enforcement. 

Decades later, we’re still fighting that same fight. All across the country, cities are being forced to drastically reform the way police operate within their communities. 

In Minneapolis, the city has cut ties between the police force and the public school system, ensuring officers no longer patrol hallways. 

In Eugene, Oregon, citizens have created and implemented an emergency call service that doesn’t send police, but trained mental health professionals to cases where they are needed. 

In Austin, Texas, the city council just voted to cut the police budget by one third, or $150 million, and reallocate those funds into violence prevention and food access programs. 

Change is coming in many different forms, and it is coming because people are demanding it. Protests against police violence and white supremacy continue to rage not just in America, but in cities around the world. The outcomes have been incredible, but there is one major change that must be implemented to ensure law enforcement officers can no longer abuse their power: police oversight. 

Your city may already have some version of police oversight, most likely under the title of a “civilian review board” made up of everyday people. These boards tend to have very little actual power. They can file complaints against officers and make disciplinary suggestions, but when it comes to legal authority, they have next to none. 

In a recent report published by The Justice Collaborative Institute, Professor Maria Hawilo of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law lays out some criteria for what effective police oversight should look like. 

The report highlighted three main points. These boards must be made up of civilians who are most affected by police violence; function independently of mayors, police chief, or law enforcement; and hold actual legal power. As cities continue to fight for drastic police reform and even abolition, we must ensure there is a checks and balances system for whatever law enforcement group remains. 

We must ensure all the power is in the hands of the people.

On today’s episode of The Breakdown, Shaun explores how the implementation of police oversight could change the criminal justice system as we know it. 

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