Goliath J. Davis, III, Ph.D.
BY Goliath J. Davis, III, Ph.D., Contributor
ST. PETERSBURG — As many of you know, I am a product of Methodist Town, having been delivered into this world by midwife Roxanna Donaldson. I had the distinction of policing for an agency I was policed by and ultimately served as its police chief. I served with a vast majority of honorable, compassionate, professional men and women, sworn and civilian.
I was fortunate enough to know the forerunners of community policing in St. Petersburg, the Courageous Twelve. They were a point of reference for assessing professional, compassionate policing and, along with other experiences with the police while growing up, helped me shape my approach to policing and the administration of police agencies.
When I assumed the office of police chief in 1997, I adopted three tenets as my underlying guiding principles: respect, accountability and integrity.
We chose to recruit employees with high integrity and a moral compass that inspired them to respect the communities they served, and in the event they fell short, they were held accountable. There were no exceptions, and all knew corrective action was a certainty.
Once again, we find ourselves confronting a very familiar and frequent problem in America: an African-American male is killed by a rogue police officer resulting in lawful, peaceful protests and sporadic looting and burning.
Some choose to focus on the looting and burning, which is deplorable and may negate the importance of the real issue — law enforcement managers need to ensure their policies and procedures clearly prohibit chokeholds and other use of force policies that are not sufficiently restrictive.
Those who refuse to acknowledge the real problems in America regarding race maintain a laser focus on the looters. They refuse to deal with police malpractice and justify police transgressions as necessary inconveniences to maintain “law and order.”
Few, if any, are willing to acknowledge the truth. Control the police, hold them accountable for their use of force abuses and you strip protestors and looters of a platform. The small minority of police officers, chiefs and sheriffs who participate in and condone the acts that consistently bring us to this place, protests, and disruption, should not be allowed to remain in the profession.
Abusers should be disciplined and, when necessary, prosecuted. Police administrators who refuse to insist on professional policing and accountability should be relieved of duty and, if warranted, subjected to harsher consequences.
Body cameras for police officers should not be a matter of debate. They should be mandatory as they protect the public as well as the officers wearing them. Disengaging a body cam is a prima facie case of bad intent, and officers who are guilty of such behavior should be dealt with harshly. Inept police officers must not be allowed to tarnish the image of those who work tirelessly to serve and protect.
Like law enforcement administrators who refuse to hold their officers accountable or promulgate policies and procedures that protect life — police and citizens — elected federal, state and municipal officials, also have dirty hands. Too many are more concerned about their political futures and longevity than attending to constituent needs.
The interests of big business and special interest groups take precedence over health care, affordable housing, jobs, living wages and education. Elected officials routinely ignore the wishes of the people who elected them for their own self-interests.
The Florida legislature imposed what amounts to a poll tax to impede the ability of non-violent offenders to engage in the political process by voting. This, despite the fact Florida voters approved the ballot initiative allowing offenders to do so. This, along with other legally mandated restrictions, prevent willing offenders’ reintegration into society.
Law enforcement officers are also victims of bad public policy. They are pushed to the forefront to defend the consequences of the political interests of elected officials — inadequate education, poor housing, poor health care, unemployment, etc.
The nature of this relationship confounds one’s ability to objectively evaluate inappropriate police actions and generate appropriate legislative controls.
The emotionally charged law and order political/campaign speeches are nothing more than red meat and dog whistles that play on voter fears and biases and perpetuate division and hostility. And when the inevitable occurs, the police are called upon to respond — to maintain order.
The current protests have a different feel and appearance. The committed crowds are demographically diverse (race, gender and age) and are exercising their rights nationally and internationally. They confront the police as well as the COVID-19.
It appears more likely now that the needed policy changes and accountability may be attainable. For the first time in my career, law enforcement administrators, police officers, and union officials openly condemn the officers’ actions in Minneapolis and call for reform. Juries must also engage and hold officers accountable for inappropriate behavior.
St. Pete, let’s lead the way. Body cameras, accountability, progressive use of force policies, affordable housing, living wages, advocacy for health care, closing the achievement gap and juror willingness to convict police officers when warranted are a must and will rob looters of a platform and prevent unjustified killings of black males and police officers.
Mayor Rick Kriseman and Chief Anthony Holloway, cease with yet another study of body cams and deploy them. They should be activated continuously, not just when the weapon is drawn.
We know that excessive force against a citizen and assaults on police officers are not limited to shootings. This was demonstrated in Minneapolis and New York (Floyd and Garner).
You owe it to your officers and the communities they serve. We hear what you say regarding your commitment to police accountability, but it is not sufficient. Your statements and actions do not align. Please actualize your verbal affirmations.
City councilmembers, you need to do your jobs as well and hold Mayor Kriseman and Chief Holloway accountable for ensuring the health and safety of all the residents of St. Petersburg.
The glowing rays of sunlight should not just shine on the chosen few, the wealthy and the privileged. We need “liberty and justice for all.”