In the aftermath of the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Delaware branch held a virtual press conference Wednesday to illuminate a path forward for police accountability reform in the First State.
“We are glad that there was a conviction,” said Mike Brickner, the executive director of ACLU Delaware.
“That was one step toward accountability, at least for the family of George Floyd. Now we need to focus on justice.”
Accountability and justice are related, but not one in the same, said Haneef Salam, the manager of ACLU Delaware’s Campaign for Smart Justice.
“While Derek Chauvin’s guilty conviction in the George Floyd case was an important step toward police accountability, I can’t call that justice,” he said. “We won’t see justice until all police are held accountable for their misconduct.”
One important roadblock to ACLU Delaware’s vision of justice is the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
“Fifteen states across the country have a (LEOBOR),” Mr. Brickner said. “They allow for there to be high levels of secrecy and keep the community from being able to properly oversee police misconduct issues.”
He described the legislation as “the root” of police accountability issues in Delaware.
“It’s a law that codified workplace protections for police officers far beyond any other government agency,” said Coby Owens, a representative from the Delaware branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“Delaware has the worst LEOBOR laws in the nation,” Mr. Salam said.
“Not only are police disciplinary records not public, they’re not accessible to anyone, forever,” he said.
In Mr. Salam’s view, an important element of holding the police accountable would be having access to data about the quantity and nature of disciplinary records, traffic stops and the demographics of those subjected to police interactions.
“We should have access to all these statistics, but LEOBOR prevents that,” he said.
Mr. Owens added that LEOBOR gives police officers being investigated for misconduct privileges such as “certain waiting times to conduct interviews, allowing for records to be scrubbed, having and ensuring that other officers internally investigate” the allegations at hand.
“When there are alleged acts of misconduct, we have police investigating police,” Mr. Salam said. “We think that’s a big problem. There’s no other government entity that’s afforded this luxury. That’s why we need LEOBOR amended in a way that will allow effective civilian review boards.”
Several speakers at the event took issue with what they see as a lack of urgency from state lawmakers when it comes to police reform.
“After the killing of George Floyd, our legislature got together and created the Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force. Now for nearly a year, they have been studying these issues here in Delaware,” Mr. Brickner said.
“We need Delaware police accountability, and we need it now,” Mr. Salam said.
He added that it’s been almost a full year since Delaware’s Congressional Black Caucus held a press conference on police reform.
“While I can respect their process and due diligence in whatever you do, other states around us like New Jersey have passed a use of force law. Maryland has amended their policing in ways that makes it more transparent and accountable,” he said. “Delaware has yet to move.”
Keandra McDole, whose brother Jeremy McDole was shot and killed by Wilmington police officers in 2015, made her criticism even more local.
“Yes, we saw the guilty verdict (Tuesday). Rest in peace to George Floyd,” she said. “But we have plenty of George Floyds here in the state of Delaware.”
She said she felt disrespected by the Wilmington “city officials who had a press conference on how they felt about the George Floyd case when we’ve had worse things than that happen right here in Delaware.”
She said her brother, a resident of Wilmington, did not get the same treatment.
“Not one time did they get up on TV and say anything like what they did in reference to what happened to George Floyd,” she said.
Mr. Owens commended activists for their hard work but stressed that the battle both in Delaware and nationwide is not over.
“Your energy, your power, your word has helped us get to this point,” he said. “But we have to keep pushing.”