Justice For All Agenda aims to tackle police brutality, racial injustice

Sen. Darius Brown, chair of the Delaware Legislature Black Caucus, introduces legislators and other speakers outside Legislative Hall Wednesday. (Special To the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — A diverse, wide ranging group of statewide leaders banded together on the General Assembly steps Wednesday afternoon, vowing to increase law enforcement’s accountability while eradicating police brutality, systemic racial injustice and more.

With George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis while in police custody sparking a seismic movement for change, momentum and unity are driving proposed changes coming to Delaware and across the country, officials said during an hour-plus news conference.

“This is a time for everyone from D.C. to Dover, all throughout the nation to be working together and it’s unfortunate that … George Floyd had to lose his life but through the loss of his life we shall gain so much as his daughter said,” state Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington, said afterward.

Sen. Darius Brown, chair of the Delaware Legislature Black Caucus, speaks outside Legislative Hall Wednesday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Vice Chair Rep. Dorsey Walker and fellow Delaware Legislative Black Caucus (DLBC) members introduced the Justice For All Agenda, aimed at upcoming legislation to end “the systemic racial injustice and police brutality that has impacted people of color in the First State for far too long.”

After the news conference, Rep. Dorsey Walker said the challenge ahead also includes addressing socio and economic injustices and shifting to “healthy equality.”

According to Rep. Dorsey Walker, the recent police brutality spurred the impassioned push to bring greater education, health, business and economic empowerment opportunities to all.

The DLBC outlined Justice for All Agenda goals, which include but aren’t limited to:

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., speaking at Wednesday’s Delaware Legislative Black Caucus press announcement. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

• Passage of Senate Bill 191, the first leg of an amendment to the Delaware Constitution that would explicitly make protection against discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin a fundamental right.

• Establishment of an African American Task Force entrusted with exploring the disparities experienced by people of color throughout Delaware and proposing remedies to address those inequities, including a commitment to significant, restorative investments in historically Black communities over the next five years.

• Banning knee holds, choke holds and similar acts of applying force or pressure against the trachea, windpipe, carotid artery or jugular vein unless deadly force is necessary.

• Requiring that body camera devices be used by all law enforcement agencies in Delaware and mandating that those devices be activated from the beginning to the end of all interactions with suspects or witnesses.

• Prohibiting Delaware law enforcement agencies from releasing mug shots or other photographs of juvenile defendants.

• Requiring that all Delaware law enforcement agencies video record all interrogations of juvenile suspects and defendants except under certain circumstances.

• Amending to the Delaware Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights to allow criminal defendants’ legal counsel to receive internal affairs investigation records of law enforcement officers accused of wrongdoing.

• Establishment of a Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force made up of a wide range of stakeholders, including police officers and impacted citizens, assigned with considering additional issues and proposals regarding the use of force, civil rights protections, transparency and community policing.

Large, small departments

During the presentation, state Rep. Frank Cooke, D-New Castle, a 30-year police officer, said “I know you know good cops, support those in our communities, support them.

“This apple has made it all bad in this basket, all police officers Hispanic, black, white, women, men.

Legislators, media and concerned citizens gather on the east steps of Legislative Hall Wednesday when the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus unveiled a package of legislative priorities designed to address the systemic racial injustice faced by people of color. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“It makes it bad. The days of hiding policies, directives, it’s over. Transparency.

“It’s over for all large and … small, because we have a lot of small departments in this state.”

Among the other speakers were DLBC members, Delaware Gov. John Carney, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Attorney General Kathy Jennings, Chief Defender of the Office of Defense Services Brendan O’Neill and elected officials.

Mr. O’Neill thanks the DLBC for being part of the discussion for reform, noting his office defends roughly 85% of people in Delaware who are charged with criminal activity and prosecuted.

“A vast majority of our clientele are people of color,” he said. “(Our) experience of defending these people over the years has been that the Delaware criminal justice system is racist, is unfair and unbalanced. …”

AG Jennings offered full support of the agenda and Delaware NAACP’s aims, calling to change the state’s use of force statute to show the “best practices to every officer in the state so they know the rules.”

Also the AG referenced changing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights she described as “so sacrosanct and will no longer be if we’re going to make meaningful change.”

ACLU of Delaware released a statement from Executive Director Mike Brickner regarding the initial proposed reforms that read, in part:

“We hope that the mass outrage and cries for justice occasioned by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery will echo in the minds of our elected officials long enough to bring about transformational change and not mere platitudes and symbolic changes.

“We hope that the voices of the Black community will continue to be heard. … We hope that reforms to police oversight, transparency and accountability will be given real teeth and bad actors will face real consequences …”

Two groups who have been advocating for change, Delaware for Police Oversight and Building People Power, issued a statement via email appreciating the justice reform plan, but calling for more drastic changes to hold law enforcement accountable.

“We can certainly appreciate the commitment to the expansion of juvenile protections, as well as a commitment to body cameras statewide. However without guaranteed access to recorded footage, and a full-throated committal to the implementation of a statewide CITIZEN-LED Community Review Board with full investigative and subpoena powers, these proposals do close to nothing to address the systemic problems which give law enforcement such an outsized and unwarranted power to begin with,” stated the press release.