Recent local and national protests against systemic racism in policing have sparked changes in many states, but so far I haven’t seen much evidence that Keene is moving in the right direction.
While I commend the city for finally releasing the police department’s use-of-force policy, the actual policy leaves a lot of room for exactly the kind of violent abuses that have led to so many tragic deaths. The city’s most recent report on use-of-force incidents is extremely troubling, showing a huge jump in such incidents.
A huge proportion of these incidents were in response to mental-health crises. And according to a recent report by the ACLU (detailed in an April 20 N.H. Union Leader article) Cheshire County has the worst racial disparity in the state when it comes to disproportionately arresting Black citizens for marijuana offenses. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Black people in New Hampshire are also four times more likely to experience homelessness.
I’ve also been following the recent debate around body cameras for police officers and again, this is a good idea, but in case after case around the country we see abuses being committed by police officers who intentionally or unintentionally fail to activate their cameras. We must go further.
The City Council should enact the following steps:
1. A citizen’s commission on police accountability, to review use-of-force incidents.
2. A comprehensive review of the police budget, with an eye toward major cuts.
3. A comprehensive review of human services budgets with an eye toward major increases to city-provided services for folks who are homeless and/or experiencing mental health or substance abuse issues.
4. Citywide decriminalization of marijuana to the extent possible under state law.
5. An official endorsement by the City Council and mayor of the seven demands of New Hampshire Black Lives Matter groups.
6. A citywide effort to increase the diversity of city employees, specifically Black, Hispanic, Asian and LGBTQ+ employees.
We are a peaceful and increasingly diverse city, and we owe it to our nonwhite citizens and to all of our children to build a just and supportive community.
A version of this letter was also sent to the City Council and mayor.
32 Royal Ave.