Policing the Police 2020
George Floyd's killing triggered mass demonstrations nationwide calling for racial justice and police accountability in the United States. In the wake of those protests, New Yorker writer and historian Jelani Cobb returns to a troubled police department he first visited four years ago to examine whether reform can work, and how police departments can be held accountable.
>> The country is on fire and their anger is directed
at law enforcement officers.
>> NARRATOR: A national outcry.
>> George Floyd!
>> NARRATOR: And one police force trying to change.
>> Can this be done in a way that still respects
>> NARRATOR: "New Yorker" writer Jelani Cobb investigates.
>> The war on our police must end...
>> What people really want is they don't want to be murdered
running from, at a traffic stop or their neck stood on
because of a twenty dollar bill.
They don't want to be murdered.
>> NARRATOR: Now on "Frontline"--
"Policing the Police 2020."
Please, I can't breathe!
>> Get up, get in the car! >> I can't move!
>> I been waitin' the whole day!
>> Just get up and get in the car!
>> Get up and get in the car right!
>> Mama... I can't!
(video continues on computer)
>> JELANI COBB: The Minneapolis Police had responded to a call
that a man had tried to use a fake $20 bill at a corner store.
>> You're stopping his breathing right now, bro,
you think that's cool?
>> COBB: They pulled him from his car.
Put a knee on his neck.
>> He's not even resisting arrest right now, bro.
>> COBB: Some eight minutes later, George Floyd was dead.
>> Is he breathing right now? Check his pulse!
>> I'm not gonna have this conversation.
>> Check his pulse!
>> COBB: I watched the video at home in New York.
>> George Floyd! George Floyd!
>> COBB: I watched the unrest in the streets...
...the outbursts of violence...
...and the president send in federal officers.
>> I am your president of law and order.
>> COBB: All in the midst of a pandemic in which Black people
have died at more than twice the rate of whites.
>> Black lives matter!
Black lives matter!
>> COBB: The angry tableau in the streets
is a reckoning with the fact that, in this country,
race is a shorthand for a set of life probabilities.
>> What's his name? >> George Floyd!
>> What's his name?
>> George Floyd!
>> COBB: The odds are different in Black America.
Of dying of COVID.
Of being poor.
>> No justice! >> No peace!
>> COBB: Of being incarcerated. Of being abused--
or even killed-- by the police.
>> Don't shoot! >> Hands up!
>> Don't shoot! >> Hands up!
>> Don't shoot!
>> COBB: Six years ago, when I was covering the last uproar
over police brutality for "The New Yorker"...
People have been out here now for, you know, ten nights,
11 nights in a row.
...in Ferguson and Baltimore...
I've talked with young people here, there seemed to have been,
you know, really entrenched distrust for the police before.
...and at the dawn of the Black Lives Matter movement.
If you're simply relying on the mechanisms
of kind of bureaucracy to function on your behalf,
it's not going to happen.
I teamed up with "Frontline" to report on what it would take
for policing to ever be different.
I went to a place with a history of deep distrust
between police and African Americans: Newark, New Jersey--
a city that still bore the scars of a violent rebellion
in 1967, after a white cop beat up a Black cab driver.
>> Race riots rocked New Jersey's largest city, Newark,
for five consecutive days and nights.
At least 24 persons are killed.
>> COBB: Five decades later, the problems persisted.
When I arrived, the city had just been singled out
by the Department of Justice for abusive
and discriminatory policing-- for routinely violating
people's civil rights.
>> Racial profiling...
>> Unconstitutional stops...
>> Stop and frisk, excessive force...
>> COBB: Particularly Black people.
But Newark was also becoming a laboratory for ways
to improve policing.
The Justice Department had begun to mandate changes,
and residents had recently elected a mayor
who was a longtime advocate for police reform.
He was also an old friend of mine-- Ras Baraka.
We'd gone to college together.
We'd been activists together.
I wanted to know how he planned on changing things around here.
Hi, Mrs. Baraka, how are you?
So good to see you.
His mother, Amina, answered the door
on this visit in November of 2015.
I've been coming over here, and sitting around
and reading y'all's books, and eating your food and all that.
I had visited the Baraka house many times over the years,
first as a friend and classmate,
and then later as a young historian
to interview his father, Amiri Baraka,
who was a legendary poet and leader
in the Black Power movement.
>> Here comes the mayor, on time.
>> COBB: That is amazing! >> Isn't it?
>> COBB: Mayor Baraka.
We'd seen each other occasionally over the years...
We can sit down and start talking.
...but decades had passed since college.
You came in '86. >> '86.
>> COBB: It was the start of a series of conversations
we had about transforming policing.
We began with a shared memory.
I'm pretty sure you remember this.
In 1991, you, me, four other people, we were in Cortlandt,
New York, to have an activist retreat.
We decided we were going to go hike up this mountain.
And, um, six of us walking down this road,
and there's a police car for each of us.
They want us up against the cars, and that experience,
in some ways, it was formative.
Like, this is the function... >> Of the police.
>> COBB: Of the police.
>> Yeah, yeah.
I remember I didn't go back outside, either.
That was... it's crazy.
That was just a crazy situation.
But all of those kinds of incidents, you know,
growing up as a Black boy in Newark,
you get thrown on the wall, you get searched,
you get put on the ground.
Those kinds of things I went through regularly.
As a kid, you think their job is to come and disrupt and cause,
um, you know, havoc, almost.
And the real dichotomy of that is that we still thought that
they should be doing their job in the community
at the same time, right?
If something happened, you call the police.
So it's like you're stuck.
>> COBB: We've talked about those formative experiences
that, that we had as young people.
And then you come home and become involved in politics.
Was there an idea that policing could be different?
That this was something that there was a means
of changing it?
>> What the police's function is in the community,
how they relate to the community.
All of those things I think can be changed.
It's difficult and it's, like, a heavy lift,
but I would rather be involved in a process of doing that
than sitting around being the victim of it.
>> COBB: Baraka had only been in power for a short time,
but he was already taking big steps to transform
the relationship between the police and the community.
>> No justice! >> No peace!
>> No justice! >> No peace!
>> COBB: For years...
>> Welcome to the Newark Municipal Council's
>> COBB: ...people in Newark had been calling for
civilian oversight of the police.
>> I been robbed by the cops, I done been assaulted
by the cops...
>> I've been a victim of them more than once.
I've been a victim of retaliation
after reporting police abuses.
>> COBB: And in 2016...
>> Motion to close the public hearing.
>> COBB: ...Baraka helped push the idea
through the city council...
>> Unanimously, yes.
(cheers and applause)
>> COBB: ...creating a uniquely powerful civilian review board
with the power to subpoena and recommend discipline.
But that vote was just a first step.
And at the time, there was concern and opposition
among the police rank-and-file.
I wanted to understand their perspective.
To see firsthand what policing looked like in a poor city,
long plagued by violence...
>> Details this morning in a double shooting in New Jersey.
>> A string of murders in Newark.
Ten of them in as many days.
>> And violent crime in general has risen
to more than 3,000 incidents annually.
>> COBB: ...and to see for myself what the mayor
and Justice Department were trying to change.
>> We had a gun robbery at 12:30 hours.
49 Fairview Avenue.
The victim, Mr. Stokes, previously classified G-Shine,
Blood gang member.
Fairview Homes, we will ride by and monitor that location.
>> COBB: I went out with the gang unit--
back then, one of the department's most
They were notorious for their aggressive tactics
trying to get guns off the street.
In Newark, most of the victims and perpetrators
were Black and Latino.
>> Good to see you, man. >> Likewise. Likewise.
>> COBB: So were most of the cops.
>> Ready? Come on, slim!
(car alarm chirping)
>> All right, son.
>> COBB: One night, I rode with Ricardo Reillo,
a former truck driver, and Wilberto Ruiz, an Air Force vet.
Both from Newark.
>> Where's he at, you see him?
>> Isn't he out right there?
Come here, man.
>> COBB: The officers said they were out there hunting for guns,
drugs, and intelligence about gang rivalries.
>> You guys don't know anything about the shootings
going on down here?
>> COBB: They were conducting what they called
>> See your hands. See your hands.
Got something in your pants, man?
>> No, sir.
>> So then why are you shaking like that?
>> COBB: Basically stopping and frisking.
(chatter, radio chatter)
So what I'm trying to understand is,
how does the decision get made to say,
"Okay, we need to stop that person,"
or "We need to do a field inquiry with that person"?
>> You as an officer, you eventually build certain skills.
You start learning how to read people, their body language.
If one person doesn't want to take his hands
out of his pockets, starts pulling away from you.
Obviously, if he starts running, you know.
>> You know more or less, when you pass them
and they give you that look, you know.
>> COBB: Police are supposed to have what's called
reasonable suspicion to stop someone, not just a hunch.
There's room for discretion.
>> We just wanna make sure you're all right.
>> COBB: But in its report on Newark,
the Justice Department had found that police were
stopping people without legal justification
roughly 75% of the time.
>> He's only ten years old, right?
He's my little brother, yo. >> Relax, little man.
How old are you? >> 13.
>> All right, so what you... Keep walking. Keep walking.
That's what we have to deal with in the city of Newark.
13-year-olds talking back to police.
>> COBB: Do you think he was justified
to be worried about his brother? >> Oh, absolutely.
But he sees who we are. We're police.
He shouldn't be afraid of police.
>> Spread your feet apart.
>> COBB: As troubling as all this appeared to me...
>> Right there, right there.
Got it, got it.
We got the weapon! (bleep)
We got the weapon! Cuff him!
>> COBB: ...almost every night that we were out
with the gang unit, they got a gun off the streets.
>> Welcome to the FBI, pal.
>> COBB: At the end of one night,
I talked to Officers Ruiz and Reillo
about what I'd been seeing.
I'm just going to ask you straight out.
Is it possible to make the communities
that we're talking about safe while respecting
people's constitutional rights?
>> Absolutely. Absolutely.
Without a doubt. We go out there every night.
>> COBB: But the D.O.J. doesn't feel like
that's what's happened here. >> That's an opinion.
I mean, we go out there.
It's not any disrespect to anybody out there.
It's not about race, you know, or violating their rights.
It has nothing to do with that. We have a job to do.
We live in this city. We care about this city.
This is what we do.
>> COBB: I have to tell you something, though, right?
So, I grew up in Queens, right?
My first experience with the police was that I was thrown up
against a mailbox just like this one.
I was coming home from a baseball game,
had my uniform on, was carrying a bat and a glove.
The guy said it was a crime that was committed, and so on,
and I was kind of, like, "I'm coming from a game."
The next experience I had was a few years later.
I was walking with a group of friends of mine,
and a cop pulled a gun on us, and told us
to get on the sidewalk.
>> You can point your weapon at somebody
and give them commands to comply.
Once you feel like the threat's neutralized, like, you know,
they're complying with you, then you put your weapon away,
and you know...
>> Have a normal interaction.
>> Yeah, have a normal interaction.
>> COBB: But can you really have
a normal interaction if someone's pointed a gun at you?
I don't, I don't...
>> You got to look at it our way.
I mean, they say there was five or six males,
and one of them possibly has a weapon.
What would you do as a police officer if you encounter a group
of males, one supposedly has a weapon on him?
How would you confront the situation?
>> COBB: I'm not sure.
But that's why I asked the question
about, can you do this-- can this, can this be done
in a way that still respects people's rights?
I think that's the question that everybody
is wondering about policing.
>> Listen, we try to go out there
and respect everybody's rights. >> Exactly.
>> We're not out here saying, "Hey, we're going to violate
this person's rights."
That's not what we're here for.
I tell you, our main objective is to go home
at the end of the night.
>> COBB: No matter what their critics said--
or what the federal authorities found--
these cops seemed to have no doubts
about the way that they did their job.
That was most clear to me in how they handled
one particular stop.
>> Yo. >> Yo.
Hey, hold on!
Hold up, hold up, hold up, hold up, hold up!
>> Stop, stop, stop, stop.
>> You want to pull away from me, man?
You're going to get hurt.
>> Stop resisting.
>> Sir, I did not.
>> Cuff him for safety.
>> All right, sir.
>> Cuff him for safety.
>> I didn't do nothing!
>> Just stop.
>> Sir, you're not under arrest.
This is for your safety and our safety, okay?
All right, bring him up to his feet.
>> Stand up, man.
Why are you acting like a jerk, bro?
We stopped you (bleep)...
>> You can't pull away from a cop.
>> Yes, you did, sir, because you pulled away from me.
>> Bro, I said, "Don't touch me, please."
Because y'all pulling up, what the (bleep) did I do?
Nothing. I'm walking home.
You don't even know what the hell's going... I'm going home.
>> Yeah, and that's why we're stopping to talk to you.
>> I am going home.
>> When you start pulling away, it's on.
>> I didn't pull away from nobody!
>> Shh. Look, we ain't going to do that.
If you want to do that, we could do that.
>> Do what? >> Listen.
Do you understand the reason why you're cuffed?
>> No. >> All right.
Now, when we came and approached you, what did you do?
You automatically pushed away from us.
>> No, I said, "Don't touch me," and kept walking.
>> Listen. Listen, you're making us think
you have a weapon, the way you ran away.
>> Y'all are worried about me? Oh, man. Okay?
>> Listen, just relax.
>> Relax. You got it.
>> You got it? Find out who he is.
>> My man, it's not wise to pull away from us
like that, you hear?
>> Not my fault, man. >> All right?
>> You know, the violence from police is crazy right now.
And, and the way y'all approached me,
all I was doing was walking home.
If y'all would have said, "Young man, what are you doing?"
>> What are you doing today? >> Going home.
I don't care about...
>> You see how fast that was?
>> Do not stereotype, because that's what y'all did to me.
>> Have a good day, sir.
>> Y'all be easy.
>> COBB: The cops were supposed to write a report
about that stop.
>> Dinner of champions here.
>> COBB: But when I later tried to get a copy,
the department told me they had no record of it.
>> That's lunch. >> About to shut it down.
>> COBB: It spoke to a larger problem in Newark.
>> I just need you to sign these files out.
>> COBB: Thank you.
According to D.O.J. investigators,
hundreds of allegations of illegal stops
or excessive force-- largely involving Black residents--
had never been properly investigated
or disciplined by the Newark PD.
Many had not even been documented.
>> What's going on?
How you doing?
Good, good, good, good.
>> COBB: I talked to the mayor about what I'd been seeing.
How you doing? Yeah, yeah.
>> I'm visiting the precincts, man,
letting them see people in here working, you know.
>> COBB: We met up one day while he was touring
the city's police precincts.
We've been out with the gang unit.
They're going around and getting guns.
Getting illegal guns requires you rolling up on folk.
>> COBB: How does that happen without being the same sorts
of policing that people are protesting about?
Who is actually somebody you should probably stop,
and somebody who's just Ms. Martha's kid
going to the store with his hat to the back, right?
I mean, intelligence gets you that information, not just,
like, random stops.
That's not how you police.
I mean, that right there is racism.
>> COBB: But these are Black and brown cops.
>> Yeah, so what?
>> COBB: Diverse police officer, police force.
>> It's not the who did it that make it racism.
To me, it is the fact that, overwhelmingly,
it happens to one specific group of people
is what makes it racism.
It becomes systemic, and most of the problems come
from units like that.
They believe that everybody must be a gang member,
I'm going to grab you, and, and it's wrong,
>> COBB: Not long after we spoke,
the gang unit was disbanded,
and one of the officers we rode with,
Wilberto Ruiz, was fired following multiple complaints
>> You need the right people doing this type of stuff.
>> COBB: At the same time, the mayor was welcoming
the D.O.J.'s help to fix the systemic problems here.
A lack of resources and expertise--
and the friction of local politics--
have long made it difficult for cities like Newark
to reform their own police departments.
That's why, more than 25 years ago,
Congress gave the Department of Justice extraordinary powers
to police local police departments.
It happened in the wake of the infamous beating of Rodney King
by four white cops in L.A.
>> Not guilty of the crime of assault by force...
>> COBB: When the officers were acquitted...
>> You (bleep) piece of (bleep) pig!
I hope you burn in hell!
>> COBB: ... the city exploded.
Congress decided to act...
>> The Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act is adopted.
>> COBB: ...adding a provision to the 1994 Crime Bill
that gave the Department of Justice the power
to investigate local police departments
and force them to reform.
>> Congress thought it was important
for the Justice Department to have a way
to really address and engage systemic reform
in police departments around the country.
>> COBB: Vanita Gupta ran the Civil Rights Division
of the Justice Department under President Obama.
>> We are here today to announce a landmark settlement agreement
between the Justice Department and the city of Albuquerque.
...an exhaustive review of the Cleveland Division of Police...
...the challenges related to policing
in the city of Baltimore.
>> COBB: The office used its power aggressively,
opening 25 new investigations into law enforcement agencies
for civil rights violations.
All but a few ended up in agreements to carry out reforms.
Many of those were court- enforced consent decrees.
How effective have these decrees been?
>> So they've been really effective.
And look, they're not...
The net result of our work in a police department
does not result in a perfect police department.
I don't think there is such a thing
as a perfect police department.
But we have seen in police departments over and over
again-- small and big-- that even where
there's deeply entrenched discriminatory policing,
or problems with use of force, or lack of accountability,
that those are changeable over time.
>> COBB: On the day we spoke in 2016,
Gupta was in Newark to sign the consent decree
between the city and the Justice Department.
>> I now stand before you to announce this agreement
that holds the potential to make Newark a national model...
>> COBB: The agreement would force the city to spend millions
of dollars to write new policies, train officers,
and overhaul the department's disciplinary system.
>> And I know that together, we're going to be able to write
a new chapter for the police officers of Newark
and the communities that they serve.
>> The city of Newark, New Jersey,
agreed today to reform the way its police treat minorities.
>> From now on, officers' actions, their use of force,
and investigations will be closely watched.
>> ...revise its search and seizure policy,
in car and body-worn cameras,
collect data on all uses of force, and create a
civilian oversight entity.
>> COBB: As reforms got underway in Newark,
and the Obama administration continued pushing through
an unprecedented number of consent decrees...
>> COBB: ...an entirely different view of race
and policing was about to take hold in Washington.
>> ...the war on our police must end and it must end now.
(cheers and applause)
>> COBB: Donald Trump was on his way to victory.
And from the very beginning of his presidency...
>> I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear...
>> COBB: ...investigating police departments for civil rights
violations was no longer a priority.
Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, spelled it out.
>> I made it clear that this Department of Justice
will not sign consent decrees that will cost lives
by handcuffing the police
rather than handcuffing the criminals.
>> COBB: Christy, how are you?
>> I'm fine, how are you doing? >> COBB: Good.
Thank you for taking the time to talk today.
I recently spoke-- remotely-- with Christy Lopez,
who oversaw the D.O.J.'s police investigations
during the Obama administration.
>> There was this narrative that many were trying to paint,
that these consent decrees were this radical thing
that were happening, and they were not.
They really were simply meant to keep police departments
from systematically violating people's rights.
>> COBB: Lopez left the department right before
Jeff Sessions took over.
May 2018, Jeff Sessions said,
"At the end of the previous administration,
many of you came to believe
that some of the political leadership of this country
had abandoned you," speaking to a police officers group.
>> Some radicals and politicians began to unfairly malign
and blame police as a whole for the crimes
and unacceptable deeds of a few.
>> COBB: And he then goes on to say,
"And let me say this loud and clear..."
>> ...as long as I am attorney general of the United States,
the Department of Justice will have the back of all honest
and honorable law enforcement officers.
>> COBB: What were you thinking as this was happening,
as all this was unfolding?
>> I was thinking, "This man is living in the last century,
if not two centuries back,
and this man knows nothing about policing."
Because I think he cares about police,
but I don't think he realized how,
what he was advocating for actually hurts police,
along with Black people and Latinx people.
>> COBB: How so, how does this hurt Black people
or Latinx people?
>> If you, if you tell police that the previous administration
was abandoning you because they were insisting
that you comport yourself consistently
with the Constitution, then you are telling police
that they have a right to police
without comporting themselves to the Constitution.
>> Please don't be too nice.
Like when you guys put somebody in the car
and you're protecting their head, you know,
the way you put their hand over?
Like, don't hit their head-- and they've just killed somebody--
don't hit their head?
I said, "You can take the hand away, okay?"
>> COBB: Since President Trump came into office,
he has signed two executive orders aimed
at improving policing, but the Justice Department has initiated
only one new investigation of a police department,
and unsuccessfully tried to end pending agreements
in Baltimore and Chicago.
The Justice Department and former attorney general Sessions
declined our repeated requests for an interview.
The D.O.J. pointed us to public statements
of the current attorney general, William Barr.
>> I think that there are instances of bad cops.
And I think we have to be careful
about automatically assuming that the actions
of an individual necessarily mean
that their organization is rotten.
>> COBB: There are people who say that these are
systemic problems, and there are people who say
that this is just the work of a few bad apples.
>> Yeah, I think the fact that those bad apples are allowed
to remain on police forces, even after they've killed people
and after they've been harming people, sometimes for decades,
or go to other police departments
and do the same thing, indicates to us
that the problem is not just with these "bad apple" officers.
There are systemic deficiencies that are allowing them to exist
and to persist and to continue working,
and, and to continue harming people,
and I have seen that in every department
that I have investigated.
>> COBB: And that, as much as anything else,
is what set the country on fire this summer.
Not only that George Floyd had been killed,
but that the cop who killed him had a history
of complaints, yet still was on the job.
>> All of us here want justice.
We want him found guilty!
>> No justice! >> No peace!
>> COBB: As people took to the streets...
>> When do we want it? >> Now!
>> COBB: ...venting their frustration with how many names
there are to say...
>> Say her name! >> Breonna Taylor!
>> Say his name! >> George Floyd!
>> Don't shoot!
>> Black Lives Matter!
>> COBB: ...calling for defunding or even abolishing
the police, they were all, in essence,
asking the same question: can this ever be different?
That was the very same question they'd been trying to answer
in Newark for the past several years.
So, this summer, I went back to see how their experiments
in police reform had been working out.
>> George! >> Floyd!
>> George! >> Floyd!
>> George! >> Floyd!
>> COBB: One thing I noticed right away were the protests.
>> Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!
>> COBB: Unlike in other cities, where the police confronted
protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas...
>> I can't breathe! >> I can't breathe!
>> COBB: ...in Newark, Mayor Baraka was leading the march.
>> Mayor Ras Baraka, give him a big hand.
(cheers and applause)
>> COBB: How've you been? >> Good.
>> COBB: We met up in a city park.
Thank you for taking time.
Can you hear me? >> Yeah.
>> COBB: Okay.
So, in many places in this country--
dozens of places in this country--
there were protests that tipped over into violence.
We saw police cars being set on fire in Salt Lake City.
>> COBB: Newark as a city, it's almost the opposite.
Things remained relatively calm during the protests here.
I wanted to understand how that happened.
>> A lot of prayer, brother.
Historically, people know what we've been through in Newark.
We needed police reform in 1967,
and we burned the city down for three or four days,
and we still need police reform.
50 years later or so, so...
They, I think, in their heart, they understood that
that in and of itself would not give us the results
we were looking for.
>> COBB: He says the peaceful protests are partly due
to the federal consent decree,
which is still in effect in Newark.
The Department of Justice has said that they see
consent decrees as a unwarranted federal intrusion
into local affairs.
I wonder what you, what you make of that.
>> Well, if it wasn't for federal intrusion,
we'd, we'd still be in slavery.
I mean, we'd be in bad shape without federal intrusion.
If the state or the municipalities can't provide
justice for people who are harmed,
then the federal government should step in and,
and defend people's civil rights.
And I think that's important.
And, and that's what the federal government is doing,
that's their job.
>> COBB: When the Justice Department came to Newark
back in 2016, Peter Harvey,
a former New Jersey attorney general,
was appointed to monitor compliance
with the mandated reforms and report to a federal judge
every quarter about the city's progress.
So it's been four years since the consent decree began.
How is the city doing overall? >> Much better.
I think that Newark is an example of what can happen
when a police agency decides to reform.
>> COBB: He says over the past four years,
the police department has toughened its policies
on everything from body cameras to use of force.
>> Anyone else? Questions?
>> COBB: And implemented extensive training
to help officers understand the new standards.
>> Do you understand?
That would be a plain touch exception.
>> They absolutely didn't know the law in certain aspects.
Stops, searches with or without a warrant.
Arrests with or without a warrant.
There's no question that many officers did not know it.
>> COBB: Do you think that training in itself works?
>> If it's the right kind of training, yes, it works.
Now, the question is, what kind of training are you receiving?
And part of what we've done with use of force is,
we took videos from other cities where someone was killed,
and asked them questions.
"What should the officer do at this point?"
"What were the alternatives that the officer could have employed
here to de-escalate the situation?"
So we're using these videos to help Newark officers understand
that when you're in this moment,
you had more tools than simply pulling the gun
and shooting someone.
>> Newark's consent decree is about all of the things
that people complain about as being wrong with policing
in the United States today, right?
Like, it's about search and seizure, use of force,
bias in policing.
Community engagement, oversight, all those kinds of things.
>> COBB: Deputy Chief Brian O'Hara is Newark PD's point man
for the consent decree.
He reports to Anthony Ambrose, the director of public safety
in Newark, who initially expressed some concern
about federal oversight.
You said that it's every executive's worst nightmare.
What did you mean then, and do you still see it that way now?
>> Well, I, I think when I say
it's every executive's nightmare, is that,
that you have a monitor.
And now you have someone every day
or every minute looking at your policies,
looking at your practices, looking at it.
But I have to say, some five years later, I think that,
that we've done some great things
because of the consent decree.
We've been able to train people that, that we, we wouldn't have
been able to train years ago because of budgetary issues.
That it was mandatory that we had to train.
If that's what it takes to get it done, then I'm for it.
>> COBB: So far, surveys conducted by the federal monitor
show a slight rise in trust in the police.
But the data also shows that the frequency of cops
using force against Newark's residents has been going up.
Based on the data that we've seen,
it appears that incidents involving use of force are up.
Does that concern you any?
>> I'm gonna have him answer you.
>> Reporting is up, which is what you want.
>> COBB: Mm-hmm. >> Reporting is up.
So I think a lot of officers did not understand
that the lowest levels of force must be reported,
even in situations where people are not arrested.
No one got that before.
Then on top of it, after that, every month,
we have a review board that meets here,
and they determine, okay, do we have
a disciplinary issue here? Do we have a training issue?
Is there anything else about this situation?
Was there an opportunity to de-escalate
and they did not properly de-escalate?
And from those, I mean, we've seen great success.
>> No justice, no peace!
>> Prosecute police!
>> COBB: But that's not how many in Newark,
and around the country, continue to see things.
>> COBB: After the recent shootings of Breonna Taylor
and Jacob Blake, the calls for civilian oversight
of the police have grown louder.
>> It's against your code, bro!
>> COBB: Newark's own civilian review board,
hailed four years ago as a step forward,
has actually been tied up in lawsuits.
And this summer, the New Jersey Supreme Court severely limited
its power, striking down its ability to issue subpoenas.
>> What do we want? >> Justice!
>> COBB: It was a bitter disappointment
to one of the leading community activists, Larry Hamm.
>> The Police Review Board is a mechanism
to give civilians some power over the police
and how the police carry out their jobs.
And specifically to deal with violation
of constitutional rights, racist policing tactics,
a use of excessive force, and unjust murder of civilians.
When you saw Chauvin...
>> COBB: You mean Derek Chauvin, the officer...
>> COBB: Yes, Derek Chauvin, the officer that killed...
>> COBB: Kneeling on George Floyd's neck.
>> Yes, that had his knee on George Floyd's neck.
When you look at that video,
you know what the most disturbing thing was for me?
It wasn't the knee on the neck.
It was the look
on Chauvin's face.
>> COBB: What did that look say to you?
>> It said that this was a man that had no worries
about what he was doing. >> COBB: Mm-hmm.
>> He looked straight at the cameras--
he wasn't worried about no cameras.
You know why?
Because they know that 99% of police brutality cases
don't end in a conviction.
See, when it's clear to them
that there will be an immediate price to pay
for unjustly taking the lives of human beings,
and unjustly brutalizing people,
that you're going to lose your badge,
you're going to lose your gun, you're going to lose your job,
you're going to lose your pension,
and you might lose your freedom if you're convicted,
when they understand that,
I guarantee you that there will be a precipitous decline
in police brutality cases in the United States.
>> COBB: No one fought harder
against the civilian review board
than the city's police union.
>> I have a disciplinary process here for our members.
Nowhere in it does it say the members are subject
to discipline by an outside, you know, group of people.
Here in the city, we got body-worn cameras.
Something like 50% of the complaints
made against police officers are exonerated
as soon as the body cam is viewed by Internal Affairs.
If there is a problematic cop out there,
he's not going to be out there for long, okay?
You know, this notion that there is just, you know,
this army of police across the country that are just out there
just assaulting people is not factual. Those guys...
>> COBB: Well, if we're talking about use of violence,
there are about 1,200... 1,100, 1,200 people
who are killed each year in interactions with the police.
A significant number of those people are unarmed.
It's not just kind of people making it up.
>> Okay, um, last night, there was a million interactions
with the police and nothing happened.
You make it seem like there are, you know,
these physical encounters with police are unjustified.
You know, I think the vast majority of investigations
reveal they are justified.
>> COBB: But I think that that's people would say is the problem.
That if you have an interaction with police,
a system is set up that will generally exonerate
the police officer irrespective of what happens.
>> You know, that, that...
>> COBB: I think that's the criticism people are making.
>> I'm, I'm glad you mentioned it.
But the investigation reveals
what the officer is allowed to do, right?
You know, that's the beauty and the curse of social media.
You see a video, everyone loses their mind.
"He can't do that, he can't do this."
Well, maybe he actually can.
You know, maybe the law, maybe why so many cops
are not convicted-- which is, you know, part of the uproar--
is because they actually acted within their rights
and within the law based on what occurred at that time.
>> COBB: The U.S. Supreme Court has established
that an officer can use force if they believe
there's a threat to their own life or to the lives of others.
>> Please, please... please, let me talk to him...
>> COBB: But still, it's often a murky question
whether a cop using force against a civilian is justified.
>> You're a bitch, too. Straight up.
>> COBB: Take this incident caught on camera
in Newark in May,
when officers were responding to a disturbance.
>> Get the (bleep)...
>> Give me your (bleep) hands!
>> I'm not even resisting.
>> So, put your hands behind your back.
>> I'm not resisting.
>> COBB: It's currently under investigation.
>> Stop punching him in the face like that!
>> Put your hands behind your back!
>> But you punching him, it's not that serious!
Y'all gonna break his (bleep) arm!
>> COBB: Is that a justifiable use of force?
>> COBB: How is that justifiable?
>> The suspect came at the police officer,
he doesn't have to wait to be struck by the suspect.
He took the first action.
Then, trying to get him to comply, he's not complying.
That's why the officers are grappling with him
on the ground.
Is, you know, is that the best place to be? No.
Does it look good? No.
It's not in the movies, put your hands behind your back and...
Sometimes it's a struggle.
We're required to use the force necessary
to get him under control.
>> COBB: Should you be allowed to do that?
>> Okay, well, what's the option?
I'll go back to that, if you, if you wanna play that.
>> COBB: No, I'm asking you
should you be allowed to do that?
>> How could we not?
>> COBB: So I think the, the debate that we're having here
is that many people would say that the fact
that it's legal doesn't mean that it's right.
You know, I, I can't dispute everybody's opinion.
You know, is there an opportunity to maybe
take a step back? Yeah, maybe.
Like you said, if we were to break down every video
that we ever saw, you know,
maybe you come up with something.
The police aren't going out there just looking
for violent encounters or looking to, you know,
physically impose their will on people.
What does a cop want?
We want to come to work, do our job, and go home.
We want a positive interaction with the community.
But, you know, everybody's piling on,
everybody's against you.
There's protests or rallies all the time,
anti-police this, anti-police that.
You know it's a different-- difficult atmosphere
to, uh, to want to be a part of in 2020.
>> COBB: In the past few months,
there have been proposals in Congress to create
more clearly defined standards for the use of force nationwide.
>> Ranking senators are butting heads over the issue...
>> We've asked that there would be a meaningful discussion
of the Justice in Policing Act.
>> They don't want a debate.
They don't want amendments.
>> COBB: Thus far, the bills have stalled,
and a stubborn fact remains:
police use force against Black people
at a far higher rate than against whites.
But Newark's public safety director says that
that is just the reality of fighting crime in his city.
You said, "Blacks are 1.6 times more likely to be stopped
than whites, 2.5 times more likely to be arrested,
and that police use force in those arrests
3.7 times more often."
But you also said those numbers could create a false impression
that the police disproportionately target
Black people. What did you mean by that?
>> Okay, so, our homicides are 20,
I think I read 22 homicides this year.
About 94% are African Americans.
I don't condone racial profiling.
I don't condone police officers locking anybody up
for their race or their gender or their creed or religion,
anything like that, but the numbers are the numbers.
>> COBB: Newark's federal monitor
is currently investigating whether the police
are disproportionately targeting Black people
or whether, as Ambrose says, they're simply responding
But, regardless, crime stats have long been cited
as justification for an aggressive type of policing
that critics see as an unrelenting knee on the neck
of entire communities.
>> I can't breathe! I can't breathe!
>> COBB: It's why, right now, momentum is gathering
not just to reform police,
but to defund them and invest in alternative ways
to address crime and violence in cities like Newark.
So, one of the things that came to prominence
after the protests started, relating to George Floyd,
was this national conversation about defunding the police.
>> You know, as, as the mayor of, of a major city
like Newark, man, we, we always have to be clear
and careful about how we organize and what we say.
For example, I think defunding's necessary, right?
I think it's necessary to begin to divert funding
from police organizations to social services,
other kind of things like that. >> COBB: Mm-hmm.
>> We've been thinking about that in Newark
for some time now. Uh, so...
>> COBB: He's publicly opposed calls to abolish police.
He wants to keep them, but start treating violence
as a public health crisis, not a problem to be solved
with policing alone.
>> In public health, some people are sick.
And because there's some people sick,
you have to address them with doctors, right?
You have to address sickness.
If the data says that if my father was involved
in violent crime, I'm more likely to be involved
in violent crime,
if that's what the data is telling us,
then we have to intervene
so that the son and the grandson is not targeted
by the police, but is now targeted by people
who are trying to give them social services
to pull them out of a condition that they are almost guaranteed
to become a victim of violence and a perpetrator of violence.
And treat it as a public health crisis
as opposed to the police response.
>> COBB: One way the mayor has been doing that
is through a program he started several years ago,
the Newark Community Street Team,
which enlists former gang members to defuse conflicts
and work as mentors.
>> You know, all of the conversations that are happening
up here is positioning us, you know,
to be the ones that reduce violence
and crime in our neighborhood.
>> COBB: He brought in Aqeela Sherrills,
who had led successful violence reduction programs
in other cities, including L.A.,
where he helped organize a peace treaty
between the Crips and the Bloods.
>> Because, you know, we talk about overaggressive policing,
and police killing our kids with impunity.
I'm, like, how do we deal with it?
We reduce violence and crime in our own neighborhoods.
Then that way, there's no need for, you know,
20 cops, you know?
Because if we making the neighborhood safe,
then maybe we only need five,
and we need to deploy them strategically.
And then we can have better relationships with them
because we're not putting all of this pressure on our cops
to do things.
>> We gonna start splitting up, this side of the street
and the other side of the street.
>> COBB: The Newark Street Team has grown
to a 50-person organization.
>> This is our 1-800 number.
If you see something transpiring...
>> COBB: It's become an important part
of the city's overall approach to use community interventions,
instead of police, to reduce violence.
In July, we met up with Street Team workers in the South Ward.
>> Missed you this morning.
>> We're starting here and just walking straight down.
>> COBB: Talk to me a little bit about what's happening here
and why the Street Team is walking down Brookdale Street.
>> Yeah, so July 4 weekend,
we had a double homicide on this block.
>> COBB: Wow.
>> You know, we're talking directly to the family members
who've been impacted, and if there is plans for retaliation,
that we convince them not to retaliate.
We always say that we cannot stop the first bullet,
but we sure can stop the second, the third, and fourth one.
>> We coming to you live mandating
with Newark Community Street Team.
>> This is one of the areas that's called a hot spot.
>> We just want to touch everybody,
if you need any services, we here.
>> Find us on our Facebook, like our page...
>> COBB: The Street Team is also trained to answer
They're stationed outside of the city's schools.
>> What time you going home, man?
>> COBB: And they're embedded in the hospital to help victims
and perpetrators of violence with social, legal,
and psychological services.
>> We're trying to introduce more alternative ways
for people to actually address their trauma.
You've got all of the violence that has happened
over the years, multi-generational trauma.
I'm, like, you know, you have young guys here, man,
I'm, like, it was astounding, brother,
that most of the people on my team had been shot.
You know, male and female. >> COBB: Wow.
>> And their parents were shot.
And their parents' parents were shot.
>> COBB: Trauma has been a constant in Sherrills' life.
Growing up in L.A., he lost more than a dozen friends
to violence, and 16 years ago, his own son was shot and killed.
He's devoted himself to conflict resolution.
So how receptive has the Newark PD been to your work?
>> You know, it started out as a tense relationship, you know?
But I think that over, you know, the past four or five years,
we've really gained a lot of traction.
We know that the work that we're doing in the city is the same,
it's to create public safety and reduce harm.
And we have a different approach.
We're not looking to arrest, we're looking to heal.
>> COBB: You can say that public safety and policing
are not the same thing. >> That's right.
>> COBB: But in a lot of people's minds, they are.
So how are you defining public safety?
>> Well, you know, first, you know, safety is, is different
from, for, for Black people and white people
in this country, right?
You talk to most Black folks,
and most Black folks ain't never felt safe.
And so public safety is not just the,
the absence of violence and crime.
We gotta increase that, that sense of well-being,
where people feel okay about walking down the street
>> COBB: That involves trust-building with the cops,
>> This uniform is not a sign of oppression.
>> COBB: The city holds regular meetings where police officers
and community members share their traumatic experiences
with each other.
>> Part of the reason I'll never be able to see beyond
you being a police officer is because you're not my neighbor.
>> Growing up in Newark, you've experienced
some level of trauma.
I've seen my father beaten by the police,
arrested by the police, you know.
I've been arrested, stopped by the police,
I've seen people shot, all kind of stuff.
So, I've been traumatized.
And police are traumatized,
because they were indoctrinated that the community
don't like them, that the neighborhood is violent,
that the criminals live here,
people are gonna murder you, shoot you,
they don't care about you.
And so what we try to do is go face to face,
the police and the community, come face to face
with those kind of realities.
>> Brother Damon, Newark Community Street Team.
I know... I'll give it to you, brother.
>> COBB: While it's hard to attribute changes
in crime numbers to any one factor...
>> Just call us, rather than calling law enforcement.
>> COBB: The approach in Newark does seem
to be having some success.
>> You can walk in this way, y'all.
>> COBB: Last year, the city had a 30-year low in violent crime,
and in the South Ward, where much of it is concentrated,
there was a 50% reduction in homicides.
>> I think that early on, when the mayor talked about
bringing Newark Community Street Team in,
and bringing people in, it, it had to be explained
to the police division, "This is alternative policing.
We can't do it all alone."
When it first started, I said, "You know, mayor,
I don't know how this is gonna work," you know?
>> COBB: Were you a little bit skeptical at the beginning?
>> I wasn't skeptical, I was, I was concerned, like, all right,
is there gonna be interference, you know what I'm saying?
And, and I have to say that, that, you know, there's...
We call, we call them.
I call Aqeela up, I say, "Listen, man, there's something
going on here, blah, blah, blah,
could you look into this for me?"
And he says, "We're already on it."
>> Whoo, watch out for that vicious...
>> COBB: In July, the mayor gave $11 million to programs
like the Street Team, money he got by diverting five percent
of the public safety budget.
>> Y'all hit this one already?
>> And until you administer the training,
you don't get different behavior on the street.
>> COBB: But Peter Harvey, the federal monitor
overseeing the reforms here,
cautions that the push to defund police departments
should be weighed against the fact that reforming them
costs money, too.
So is it fair to say that your perspective is that, you know,
we should be increasing funding to police
rather than defunding them?
>> I think you have to invest in certain components
of police agencies if you want high-quality policing.
If you're not going to give police agencies
adequate resources for the components that matter--
bias-free policing training, community engagement,
use-of-force training, stop, search, and arrest,
internal affairs, data systems-- then you are asking for trouble.
>> COBB: As the country continues to grapple
with the fallout of police violence,
and the frustrated calls for change
when it comes to policing, what I see in Newark gives me hope.
>> Let us all take a knee.
>> COBB: It's an experiment that is trying to move beyond
policing, and at least in some measure address problems
that have plagued Black America for far too long.
>> Thank you.
What people really want is, they don't want to be murdered
running from, at a traffic stop, or choked to death
because they got a loose cigarette, or, you know,
their neck stood on because of a $20 bill,
or their kid murdered in front of a rec center
for playing with a toy gun.
They don't want to be murdered,
and the real crazy thing is, even if you defund the police,
it's not going to stop people from murdering us,
or make, make people see us as human beings, right?
That's not the crux of what, what we need to be getting at.
And Jesse said something powerful, and I don't,
I don't quote Jesse a lot, but he said something powerful.
>> COBB: Jesse Jackson? >> Jesse Jackson said, "Listen,"
he said, "We didn't struggle all these years
just to have a kinder and gentler police force."
That's not what we want, right?
It would be helpful, right?
(chuckles): But that's not the end.
The police represent a larger system
that, that they're enforcing these people's values, right?
More African American women die giving birth
than on the streets by police,
because of inequity in the damn hospital.
Every institution in America has the same values
that the police department has in America.
The police just got guns.
>> COBB: What struck me about that was that so much
and so little has changed.
50 years ago, a commission was appointed to investigate
the cause of the Newark rebellion of 1967.
How you doing? >> Thank you for coming.
>> COBB: I'm here to see the Lilley Report.
>> COBB: The report laid blame with the police,
but it also went further than that.
It blamed the violence on racial inequities
and the failure of public education,
as well as housing and employment discrimination.
The authors wrote that the report reflects
"a deep failing in our society,"
and that many of these problems
"should have been solved by now.""
"The question," they said,
"is whether we have the will to act."
50 years later, the question remains the same.
>> Go to pbs.org/frontline...
>> Breonna Taylor!
>> ...for more on how protests nationwide have impacted
efforts at police reform.
And listen to our podcast with Jelani Cobb
on race, police, and the pandemic.
>> We really need a kind of gigantic systemic overhaul
in so much of the country.
Connect with the "Frontline" community on Facebook
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visit our website at pbs.org/frontline.
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