Sen. Brian Williams

The latest series of racial violence across America dealt a much-needed gut check to the nation and forced leaders to consider if their current policies would prevent the next tragedy from ensuing. For instance, is Missouri doing everything we can to hold police officers accountable? Are we reassuring Missourians that communities are being policed in a manner that reflects their distinct values?

What “policing” should look like is possibly the most exhaustive decision any state can make, and it is a responsibility I take personally. Growing up in Ferguson, I endured the humiliation of being racially profiled. I cannot help but see myself in Mike Brown and countless others whose lives have been snatched by those sworn to protect them.

Missouri has a long road ahead to refine the checks and balances between local officers and communities. Several neighboring states have introduced bills to improve police oversight and accountability after the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and Missouri must follow suit.

Hence, I developed a comprehensive policy agenda to move the needle on accountability and fostering community trust during the upcoming special session. My agenda was inspired by the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, legislation composed by Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay and U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to address the unequal treatment of Black Americans by law enforcement. My legislative agenda was also inspired by numerous conversations with local activists, observations from other state legislators, and state Auditor Nicole Galloway’s statewide vision for accountability and transparency.

First, Missouri must outlaw chokeholds and no-knock warrants that have led to the death of far too many unarmed Black Americans. These procedures are obsolete and inhumane, and we must terminate their use in Missouri.

If Iowa can unanimously ban chokeholds and U.S. Senator Rand Paul can lead the national call to outlaw no-knock warrants, Missouri can surely find common ground on these measures. And Missouri should follow New Mexico and make police body cameras mandatory statewide.

Next, Missouri needs a Civil Rights Accountability Board within our Office of Attorney General to investigate officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths, and denote prosecution violations by law enforcement officers. Again, several states have already established these independent boards to forbid law enforcement agencies from policing themselves.

The board – composed of diverse voices from Civil Rights activists and law enforcement community – will be granted subpoena power to inspire public trust and mitigate the perception of investigators covering for their friends and colleagues.

Further, my proposal allows cities and counties to establish a civilian review board to investigate allegations of misconduct by local law enforcement officers towards the community. The local boards will have the power to investigate and recommend disciplinary action for alleged misconduct involving excessive use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, or use of offensive language.

My proposal also calls for a mandatory review of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Program training materials to review the licenses of law enforcement basic training centers and instructors. This process will certify that our law enforcement training curricula follows national best practices in community policing and de-escalation tactics.

Now is the time for leaders to explore every potential risk to our communities stemming from how we police. It is my hope that Gov. Mike Parson holds this same moral conviction and consider these measures as part of a comprehensive discussion on violence and crime. If the governor declines, I will formally extend invites to the appropriate chairs to have field hearings in my community to ensure these issues are deliberated.

Sadly, Missouri does not have the policies in place to prevent the next Sandra Bland or Eric Garner. And despite the lingering pain of Mike Brown, we still have not fostered a policy environment to inhibit this dark fate from happening again to someone who looks like me.

Our vision for policing should reflect our values, and Missouri must be better. And thanks to the leadership of Congressman Clay and Auditor Galloway, and the countless voices from the community, we have a sound, actionable path forward to achieve this.

Brian Williams represents Missouri’s 14 Senatorial District in North St. Louis County.

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