Members of a group of religious leaders, known as Faith in Action, invited several city officials and the families of victims of police shootings to the church of St. John the Evangelist on Thursday night to ask them probing questions about how to move forward with police reform.
Faith in Action, along with other religious organizations and individuals, has taken an activist stance on the issue of police reform, quietly but persistently advocating for policy change and for criminal charges in police shootings like that of Amilcar Perez Lopez.
“We want to see a just society,” said Imam Abu Qadir Al-Amin. “Don’t be frightened, stand on the right side of the right issue.”
The family of police shooting victims Luis Gongora and Alex Nieto, as well as Paulette Brown, the mother of a murder victim, recounted the stories of how they discovered their loved ones had been killed, and how frustrated they were with the law enforcement and city response in the aftermath.
Supervisors David Campos and John Avalos, along with Chief of Staff to the District Attorney Cristine DeBerry, were then invited to answer a series of questions about their efforts to improve police accountability.
Campos was questioned about his proposal to create an Office of the Public Advocate, an oversight body that would be able to examine the efficacy of any city agency including the Police Department. The agency would be modeled on a similar office in New York.
The Office of Citizen Complaints, which currently serves as an oversight body for the police department, was dismissed as largely ineffective by both the faith group and Campos, partly because it is funded by the Mayor’s office.
“How truly independent can it be when its budget is dependent on the Mayor himself?” Campos asked.
Avalos, who has visited or participated in several marches to demand police accountability, has proposed withholding a portion of the police budget until certain benchmarks of use of force reform are demonstrably met. Clergy wanted to know how the proposal would improve accountability.
Avalos supported a change in use of force policy from mandating “reasonable” force to “minimal” force, but said policy phrasing alone may not be enough to change what he called “Jim Crow system” of policing.
“If we just change the rule, that’s not enough to see the change in behavior,” he said.
District Attorney George Gascón, whom Faith in Action has been pressuring to press criminal charges against the officers involved in the shooting of Amilcar Perez Lopez, has proposed a separate internal office of attorneys dedicated solely to the investigation of officer-involved shootings. Faith in Action asked his Chief of Staff Cristine De Berry to explain how such an office would be uninfluenced by police officers’ interests, since the District Attorney’s cases against criminals usually hinge on police testimony.
De Berry said the District Attorney’s office has offered to hand over all of its investigation into officer misconduct to the state Attorney General, but that offer was declined. The police officer investigation unit, she said, would be separated not only on paper but in location from the District Attorney’s office, and cases would be sent to the Attoreny General and the Department of Justice for review. Funding, however, remains a problem, as the mayor has refused to allocate money for the idea.
As for accusations of a cozy relationship with police, “We don’t have to worry so much about our relationship with the police department because it has been fractured in the last few years,” De Berry said.
Faith leaders concluded the meeting by encircling family of the deceased and leading the group in several prayers.