Protests have put the spotlight on community review boards, but is it enough?

July 29, 2020 12:20 am

Police took over the intersection of Broad and High streets in downtown Columbus, the location for several flash points during protests over the George Floyd murder in 2020, with police and protesters jockeying for control over the intersection. Photo by Tyler Buchanan, OCJ.

The United States has had a rough summer. Ohio has, too.

Aside from COVID-19 wreaking havoc on our state, the death of George Floyd has galvanized thousands of people to protest and demand a more egalitarian treatment of citizens concerning policing in our communities.

Ohio has not been immune to the now-ubiquitous videos and images of protestors getting hurt by police. 

In nearly every major city in the state, there have been reports of protestors being tear-gassed, shot at with projectiles, pepper-sprayed, and more. The visual evidence has been overwhelming, with protesters’ videos, stories, images, and reports getting thousands and thousands of views. 

Historically, Ohio has had their bouts with cop-based viral videos. Searing and painful imagery of the deaths of Tamir Rice, Samuel Dubose, and John Crawford has had national attention.

Those who have watched these videos want accountability. They want justice. They’ve called on their elected officials, city councils, mayors, even their police chiefs to get justice not only for the people in the videos they’ve seen, but other situations that the community has experienced, but aren’t in the media.

What does justice look like? What does police accountability look like? 

A Community Review Board is supposed to answer that question. In concept, a Community Review Board (or Police Review Board, or some other permutation of the similar wording) would make reviewing of police actions more egalitarian and community-minded. The boards, made up of citizens, would review actions of police, and recommend actions or discipline. 

Cincinnati and Cleveland already have some form of a community review board. As of July 27, Columbus is in the process of creating one — with reports of several outside organizations being a part of the board.

However, is it enough? 

A report by ABC News showed that in 2018, Cleveland Police went against the Civilian Police Review Boards’ recommendation 35% of the time. That means 35% of the time when the review board recommended disciplinary action against an officer, Cleveland police declined to act.

Cincinnati’s police review board isn’t much better. Cincinnati Police had only taken around 50% of the recommendations from their police review board, called the Citizen Complaint Authority.
How can you address the problems communities have with policing when you don’t listen to the community?

City review boards can only do so much If the police and our elected officials only sometimes listen to them, then these panels aren’t effective.

Even still, it seems like sometimes these panels, task forces, and other initiatives to address police brutality skip over a larger question: Is it moral for police to have the power that they do? 

In Cleveland, Tamir Rice’s death soured the community, as the nation looked on as the police who shot Tamir Rice didn’t end up with any charges. The grand jury found that the officers had acted within reason, and that ruling only further drove division within the community. True, a grand jury is not the same as a community review board, but similar principles still apply. The community had called for justice and accountability for police actions, and they felt angry and disenfranchised that the outcome did not result in what they had perceived as justice. 

That community had said that it was unacceptable for police to shoot Tamir Rice. That community, and many other communities across the united states, have repeatedly challenged the ideas of what the police can do. Sometimes, that discourse can get lost, but it’s crucial to crafting a more complete dialogue towards changing policing for the better. 

Whatever happens next with the advent of community review boards, civic leaders have to listen and implement what the community says, as well as truly consider what role policing has.

Otherwise, civil unrest and the protests will likely continue.

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Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is a freelance writer, focused on structural inequality. He is also a northeast Ohio native, and has graduated from The Ohio State University.