Local district attorneys denounce murder of George Floyd


Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2020 5:19:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Along with other elected prosecutors from across the country, Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan signed a letter in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis that denounces police violence and calls on law enforcement leaders to embrace comprehensive reform to the justice system.

Sullivan was one of 40 prosecutors, including Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, to sign on to the letter, a copy of which was posted on the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office Facebook page earlier this week.

“The murder of Mr. Floyd is only one of many episodes of police brutality and excessive force that have plagued our communities for decades. These violent, sickening and despicable acts threaten the safety of our streets and erode critical bonds of trust in our justice system,” the letter reads. “Every episode of police violence against people of color lays bare the unbroken link between slavery and modern racially biased policing, and demonstrates the moral imperative for all law enforcement leaders and every member of our justice system to do better.”

Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes on Memorial Day. Protests have erupted across the country since Floyd’s death, with some turning to destruction and looting. A protest against racial violence and police brutality Monday in front of the Northampton police station drew at least 1,000 people; some participants vandalized the building and others were pepper-sprayed.

Sullivan said the majority of police officers “do a great job, (but) it’s that 1 percent, or maybe more, that you gotta just call out.”

“People are angry and they want solutions,” Sullivan said about the protests.

The lengthy letter Sullivan signed features a laundry list of recommendations to police and prosecutors aimed at holding both accountable. It recommends prosecutors work together with law enforcement to amend policies and procedures, create databases to track fired officers and allegations of misconduct, and repeal laws shielding police records, among other avenues.

It also calls for greater transparency — such as body cameras for all police officers — as well as changes to police training and the hiring of more minority personnel, to attempt to address racially disparate policing. Prosecutors, the letter says, should not take donations from police unions, should implement prosecutorial training to combat racial biases, and should analyze racial disparities made in decision-making, among other objectives.

Near the end of the letter, the signing prosecutors note that police violence is but one “facet of mass incarceration” and call for policy changes “at every stage — from arrest to sentencing.”

“Law enforcement leaders must partner with the community to reimagine what justice means, examine the ways that the justice system intersects with racism, classism and other societal inequities, and chart a new path predicated on community well-being,” the letter states.

One of the recommendations the letter makes is the creation of “independent oversight structures” supported and empowered by elected prosecutors with a goal of holding police accountable.

Sullivan said that if he believed his office couldn’t independently investigate an officer’s use of force, he would refer the matter to state or federal authorities. But, he said, it’s “up to each individual community” to decide whether to put together a civilian review panel. He said individual departments can refer cases out if they can’t investigate them independently.

“It’s about making sure that if something serious happens,” he said, “that if there’s a police-involved shooting or a police-involved death, that somebody other than that police department is the sole agency or entity that goes forward.”

Asked about protesters’ call for defunding police departments, Sullivan said law enforcement must first listen to protesters’ concerns so they can work together.

“The conversation about defunding police departments comes out of frustration,” Sullivan said. “And I think the more realistic conversation is to say, ‘How do we fund other things to make our communities better?’”

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