On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
After a week of protests in D.C. sparked by the killing of George Floyd, we heard from Chief Peter Newsham of the Metropolitan Police Department.
D.C.’s Protests So Far — And What’s To Come
- Since May 29, people in D.C. have gathered in protest. Monday night may have been the most pivotal, with the most arrests (289) and a resident who sheltered dozens of residents into the early morning.
- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued curfews on Sunday through Wednesday.
- The police presence at D.C. protests is a blend of local and federal forces, which has caused frustration among protestors and, at times, chaos, including tear-gassing peaceful protesters and helicopters flying low over demonstrators.
- On Thursday, Newsham said that the upcoming Saturday protests “may be one of the largest that we’ve had in the city.”
- On The Politics Hour, Newsham said that D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) did not consult with him on the emergency police reform bill, which the council will vote on next week. “I would caution lawmakers to be very careful moving forward,” Newsham said. “The number one thing that contributes to excessive force in any police agency is when you underfund it.”
Virginia Delegate Ibraheem Samirah, who represents parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties in the Virginia House of Delegates, joined The Politics Hour.
Samirah Joins The Protests
- Samirah may be best known for interrupting President Donald Trump’s address in Jamestown in 2019 to protest Trump’s racist remarks to four U.S. congresswomen of color.
- The Virginia lawmaker has been active in D.C. protests. On Sunday night, he was pepper sprayed by law enforcement.
- Samirah isn’t the only Virginia state lawmaker getting involved in demonstrations. Del. Lee Carter said Virginia State Police officers pointed rifles and threw flash-bang grenades at him during a protest in Manassas.
- Del. Joshua Cole was talking with young protesters in his district in Fredericksburg, and he was hit by tear gas.
- Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and state Sens. Jennifer McLellan and Ghazala Hashmi attended protests in Richmond, as did state Del. Lamont Bagby, head of the Legislative Black Caucus.
- On The Politics Hour, Samirah detailed some specific legislative changes he hopes to make, including “demilitarization of police forces, preventing police forces from obtaining military-grade equipment [and] preventing them from engaging in military trainings abroad.”
Goodbye, Robert E. Lee
- Down in Richmond, Virginia, protests have been ongoing and at times violent. One particular moment to highlight: Richmond police officers fired tear gas at peaceful protesters on Monday about 15 minutes before the 8 p.m. curfew without provocation.
- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has since apologized for the incident and even joined the protesters on Tuesday.
- At the literal center of the Richmond protest is a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
- On Thursday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that he will remove the statue of Lee and put it in storage.
- On The Politics Hour, Samirah said, “I don’t think this meets the needs of protesters in Virginia, across Virginia. This is just merely the start.” The delegate would like to see real changes in healthcare, transportation and housing options. “Symbols are important to take down, but systems are more important to take down.”
In D.C., the pandemic and protests were joined by another major event: the primary. And it did not go as smoothly as officials hoped. D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) chairs the council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which oversees the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Board of Elections. He joins The Politics Hour.
Allen’s Police Reform Bill
- On Thursday, Allen circulated draft legislation of an emergency policing reform bill.
- As it is drafted now, the bill would, among other things, prohibit the use of chokeholds by MPD officers; speed up the release of bodycam footage; and require that the Police Complaints Board be unaffiliated with law enforcement.
- The draft bill also includes language to enfranchise people who are incarcerated for felonies.
- When asked why he didn’t consult MPD Chief Newsham on the bill, Allen said, “I recommend he takes a look at the bill. These are issues, many issues that we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years in our committee. … But when it comes to police oversight and reform of policing, you don’t hand the pen over to the chief of police to write the bill.”
- Allen says he is making violence prevention and intervention a priority in the budget cycle. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser did not renew financial support for the Cure The Streets Violence Interruption Program run through the Office of the Attorney General for D.C. (During The Politics Hour on May 29, Bowser said that the budget included this funding.)
D.C.’s Primary Woes
- Long wait times and lost ballots: These were some of the issues that plagued D.C.’s June 2 primary, which was largely done through vote-by-mail due to the coronavirus and limited in-person voting.
- On primary day, some voters were waiting upwards of four hours to cast their ballot — which was well after the 7 p.m. curfew imposed by the Mayor. While voters were exempt from the curfew, some D.C. lawmakers worried that the curfew would dissuade people from voting.
- On The Politics Hour, Allen called the long lines and missing absentee ballots “inexcusable.” He said, “At every turn, the Board of Elections was offered support and resources, and they said that they had enough. They said that they had it covered.”
- Allen has scheduled a virtual oversight roundtable on the Board of Elections and the primary. The roundtable is scheduled for June 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
- Peter Newsham Chief of Police, Metropolitan Police Department (Washington, D.C.); @ChiefNewsham
- Ibraheem Samirah Member, Virginia House of Delegates (D-District 86); @IbraheemSamirah
- Charles Allen Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); @charlesallen
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood, I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen and Ibraheem Samirah who is a Member of the Virginia House of Delates. First up, of course, is MPD Police Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department Peter Newsham. Chief Newsham, thank you for joining us.
PETER NEWSHAMGood afternoon, Kojo. Thank you for having me on.
NNAMDIFirst, a quick announcement from our Reporter Martin Austermuhle. The corner of 16th and H Street northwest right by St. John's Church and immediately north of Lafayette Square has been symbolically renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza by Mayor Bowser. It was the scene of President Trump's photo op on Monday. Martin is told that the street renaming and the Black Lives Matter paint on 16th Street was pulled together quickly mostly within the last 24 hours at the initiative of the D.C. Department of Public Works, which started painting that sign at 4:00 a.m.
NNAMDIChief Newsham, unlike perhaps any other place in the country, D.C. is in the conundrum of having many policing agencies active during the protests. Did you request support from federal forces? And where does MPD and D.C.'s National Guard have jurisdiction versus the federal agencies?
NEWSHAMSo that request actually comes from our Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency and it's directed by the mayor. So it goes from the mayor to HSEMA to the Guard for support. We had asked as you know for Guard support during the public health emergency. When we started to see the unrest that we saw in Washington D.C. we made a subsequent request for public safety reasons. That request was specifically for D.C. National Guardsmen. That continues to be the request from the city.
NEWSHAMWhenever we have large events occurring here in the city we always work collaboratively with other federal agencies. For example, DEA, FBI, ATF, Secret Service, uniform Secret Service, Park Police, that's a very common occurrence here in Washington D.C., because as you said, Kojo, the nature of our city and the different responsibilities that the agencies have.
SHERWOODChief, welcome. Mayor Bowser has been pretty critical of President Trump, but she has not been as critical in public as she has been in private. One of the reasons is as I wrote in the paper for the City Paper this week that the city's home rule charter gives the president extraordinary power with a stroke of a pen essentially to take over the D.C. Police Department for 48 hours or longer if Congress agrees. And he can direct the mayor how she should use the police department. And the law says the mayor shall do what the president says.
SHERWOODHow much -- are you worried that that could still happen? The mayor with her actions today with the painting on 16th Street and the intersection Black Lives Matter Plaza, are you concerned at all that President Trump will be irritated or angry enough to take over your department?
NEWSHAMI don't feel -- I feel very comfortable that Mayor Bowser has done everything that she possibly can to ensure that she maintains control of the Metropolitan Police Department. You've heard her say that. I, as the Chief of Police, I work for Mayor Bowser. I consider her to be doing an incredible job under these circumstances that we've had in our city. These are circumstances we haven't seen. You know, I've been around a long time. Tom, you've been around for a long time, Kojo, as well. We haven't seen anything like this in our lifetimes here in Washington D.C.
NEWSHAMTo face the thing -- you know, the COVID -- the public health emergency with COVID and then roll that into the horrific thing that we saw in Minnesota with the death -- the murder of George Floyd and then the subsequent anger and the violence that we saw in our city, and now we see also the disagreements between Federal -- you know, the president essentially and our mayor. So this is a tumultuous time. And, you know, I am very proud to work for a leader in Mayor Bowser who has been able to guide Washington D.C. through this very very difficult time.
SHERWOODChief, we've never had a president like President Trump whether you like him or not. I think everyone would agree on that. But have you been in discussions with the city's lawyers or even with federal officials about the possibility that President Trump could personally take control of your department.
NEWSHAMWhat I will say is some issues came up in these unprecedented times. For example, the federal expansion of the perimeter around the White House. That occurred for one day as you know, and the mayor successfully was able to influence the federal government to pull that back. And then the issue of whether or not the president should continue to be able to have the authority to take over MPD and even whether or not he has that authority.
NEWSHAMI think our legal issues that certainly are going to be resolved -- for me, I don't have a lot of time to give a lot of thought to those issues. I'm obviously aware of them. But I am pretty sure and I believe you feel the same way that those issues are going to be discussed into the future and probably will end up in some legal proceedings to ensure that we have some degree of certainty in the event God forbid we have to go through this ever again.
NNAMDIChief Newsham, there were both media and first person accounts on social media that MPD officers surrounded protestors at 15th and Swan Street northwest on Monday night refusing to let them leave, a practice that's known as kettling. It's a controversial tactic, may have violated D.C. law. The last time we talked about kettling in 2002 after the Pershing Park incident during the antiglobalization protests. You were then the Assistant Chief and the one who reportedly ordered those arrests. But before you respond, quickly here is Jay in Adams Morgan. Jay, we don't have a lot of time. But go ahead, please.
JAY (CALLER0Sure. Hi, Chief. I was really saddened to hear about the events that happened on June 1, namely the kettling, the barricading of protestors as well as pepper spraying through the windows of a private property against protestors. What policies and procedures are you planning to put in place so events like this don't happen again and the residents of D.C. can continue to protest in peace?
NEWSHAMSo, Kojo, I think you left one out. I think there was a lot of discussion about kettling after the inauguration, when we had rioting here in our city in Washington D.C. The events on Swan Street, as you know, we had a curfew that was put in place at seven o'clock. There was a good size group of folks that were marching. The behavior of some within the group was indicative of the behavior that preceded the very violent actions that we saw, the preceding two days. And let's just kind of refresh people's memory of what that violence looked like, because we had people throwing rocks and bricks at human beings. People were getting those rocks and bricks by using hammers to destroy our sidewalks. We had people lighting fires.
NEWSHAMWe had people that were throwing incendiary devices at human beings. We had looting in our city. I walked those areas after that destruction and I was heartbroken to see this city that I love put in that condition. And I think that we will all agree that violence is not the way to move forward. And I've very thankful that the demonstrators have been peaceful over the last couple of days. And I anticipate they will be that way moving forward. But in order to ensure -- and I have primary responsibility for this, for the safety our public, we believed that an arrest was necessary. And an arrest was made in the 1500 block of Swan Street. There was at least one person in that community who made some very public national statements about police officers beating up folks and pressing their faces into the ground.
NEWSHAMI take that very very seriously, because we at MPD have a philosophy of treating everyone with respect particularly the people we have to take into custody. So I looked into that very closely. And I got to tell you, we do not have any evidence to corroborate the beating or the pressing of the faces into the pavement. We have turned over that entire incident to our Internal Affairs Division for an internal review that will be shared when it is completed, but to this point I want to make it entirely clear that nobody was treated in that way.
NEWSHAMAnd the arrests that were made in the 1500 block of Swan Street -- we made 194 arrests. One hundred and ninety of those arrests were for adults and the arrests were for violating the curfew that was ordered by the mayor -- appropriately ordered by the mayor after the violence we saw in Washington D.C.
NNAMDIChief Newsham, we've got Councilmember Charles Allen on the show later. He released yesterday details of an emergency Police Reform bill that the Council will vote on next week. It would among other things speed up the public release of footage from body cameras, require that police officers involved in serious uses of force and shooting deaths be named and outlaw all chokeholds. Right now MPD prohibits only one type of chokehold. What do you think of this reform? What do you think of this legislation? And did the councilmember consult with you?
NEWSHAMThe councilmember did not consult with me on these issues. What I would say is that I'm seeing a lot of this nationally and a little bit of it locally and I would caution lawmakers to be very careful moving forward with regards to -- because, you know, this is period of time when we are all angry about what we saw in Minneapolis. We're all very frustrated.
NEWSHAMWe really feel like we need to do something immediately to make changes, but I do think that -- and actually I know this because I lived it, is that the number one thing that contributes to excessive force in any police agency is when you underfund it. If you underfund a police agency that impacts training, that impacts hiring, that impacts your ability to develop good leaders or thoughtful leaders. You have one of the best police departments in the country here in Washington D.C. There is obviously always room for improvement.
NNAMDIWe only have about one minute left, Chief Newsham.
NEWSHAMThis is important, though. I just caution people to react too viscerally and quickly to the emotion that we're all feeling. If we want to sit down and make good adjustments to MPD, I'm in 100 percent, but let's not do something that drastically puts us back to where we were in 1999 as an agency.
NNAMDIPlans for tomorrow's demonstrations are expected to produce the largest turnout so far. In the 30 seconds we have left, what kind of preparations are you making? What kind of police presence can police expect Saturday?
NEWSHAMWe anticipate what we've seen the last couple of days. We anticipate people to peacefully exercise their first amendment rights. Our Metropolitan Police Department is the best in the country in handling these things. I expect a very successful day here in Washington D.C. And I hope that's the case.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Sorry I couldn't get in a few more questions from Tom Sherwood, but we do have to take a break. When we come back we will be joined by Ibraheem Samirah, who is a Member of the Virginia House of Delegates. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood, before we go to our next guest, I'd like to hear briefly your thoughts on Chief Newsham saying that A, he was not consulted by the councilmember on this legislation and B, he is concerned about underfunding the police in the city.
SHERWOODWell, one we'll have Charles Allen who is the Chair of the committee that oversees the police department later in this program so we'll ask him about that. About how you can have significant changes in police activity without consulting the police chief, and I think that's it. I think we should move to the next guest. We've got a lot of -- if you don't mind my saying.
NNAMDIWell, I'm just anticipating that the Bowser administration is likely to oppose this legislation or parts of it.
SHERWOODYeah. In cutting the police force, that is a national cry. There are -- I think there's a big raise in the D.C. Police Department in the current budget proposed by the mayor. But, again, Charles Allen will have a big say in whether that goes forward or not.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Ibraheem Samirah. He's a Member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing District 86, which includes parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties. He's a Democrat. He is also a dentist. Dr. Samirah, Delegate Samirah, thank you for joining us.
IBRAHEEM SAMIRAHThank you, Kojo, for having me on again. I appreciate it. And it's a tough time for all of us. And I'm ready to put on the bootstraps and make sure we do something about it.
NNAMDIYou've joined protests here in D.C. Some Virginia state legislators have made appearances of protests throughout the Commonwealth. But you've stayed with protestors here late into the evening even past curfew on Sunday night. You were pepper sprayed by law enforcement. Tell us why you feel so strongly about joining these protests in D.C.
SAMIRAHWell, number one, we have to center the people that are affected by this. This is a one incident with George Floyd that resulted in death and destruction of all sorts of ideas that people had in their head of what is public safety from police officers -- what is provided from police officers for public safety in Minneapolis, but across the country. It represents systems of violence that have been instituted against people of color and poor people for a very long time now, almost ever since the country existed. And we are still battling with it. We're still a young nation.
SAMIRAHAs a member of the General Assembly in Virginia that represents the Metro D.C. area I feel connected with the rest of the region. And I knew that the actions of Mayor Bowser and President Trump with instituting military forces and police forces to push curfews is limiting that freedom of speech that was going to save live. That would save lives through advocating for public health solutions for everyday people across the board.
SHERWOODSeveral -- we just talked about changes and maybe emergency changes in how D.C. police are treated. Will Smith in Maryland is proposing changes in the legislative section next January in Maryland about policing. The Virginia General Assembly has a special session coming up. I think in September, Governor Northam told us. Do you anticipate any effort then to pass laws affecting how police are behave in the State of Virginia?
SAMIRAHI expect so. We're already beginning to put together working groups to develop legislation to push forward. I've been pushing very hard for that. As somebody who's biracial myself, I find this very personal for me to do, and I've been working on this for some time, demilitarization of police forces, preventing police forces from obtaining military grade equipment, preventing them from going -- engaging in military trainings abroad. I know, for example, in D.C. the D.C. Chief and the D.C. police force has traveled to Israel to learn best practices. Obviously we've seen how those best practices translate here in the United States, very unfortunate to see that. We don't want those kind of authoritarian practices to translate over here into the United States.
SAMIRAHAs well, we want to make sure that community policing is advanced and we do that with community oversight boards. We need to make sure that community oversight boards have teeth specifically. We in Fairfax County as representative of Fairfax County have community oversight boards, but they don't have the teeth necessary to hold police officers accountable. And we need to redirect funding, a way to place it to areas of governance that have proven themselves to be very effective at addressing public health issues in which -- that which if addressed effectively would produce a strong result in fighting crime and its prevalence.
SAMIRAHAnd we've seen that over and over again through research about how investing in early childhood education, investing in mental health, investing in housing solutions, investing in transportation solutions and investing in healthcare in the middle of a pandemic that is causing so much trouble for everyday people across the board here in the D.C., Maryland, Virginia region.
SHERWOODLet me ask you. Virginia Governor Northam chose not to send Virginia's National Guardsmen into the District. I assume that you agree with that decision.
SAMIRAHI agree. I don't think that the National Guard should have come in to D.C. to start with. I don't think that we needed to use that excessive force. Being on the frontlines here -- to speak a little bit about that in the protest, I didn't see the large majority of protestors being violent. I saw the large majority of protestors being very respectful. And if were to comment on the people that were actually using water bottles to throw at police officers or throwing rocks or what have you, I mean, these are people without anything in their hands to really fight. And the police officers are the ones that pushing on them. I saw repeatedly police officer lines going at protestors, pushing at them, going over their own lines that they created. The different metal barriers that they created. They were bringing them down.
SAMIRAHThe Metro Police Department would bring those down. Go over and start pushing over prostestors, throwing tear gas everywhere not even in the front. These people that were in the front of the protests weren't even getting -- weren't doing any violence, and in the back there wasn't any violence. And yet the police were still firing tear gas all the way to the back. They were using pepper spray. Automated machines that produce pepper spray across the line. It doesn't even -- I don't even know where they get these devices from. It's not even, you know, an object that you place in one place. It just keeps moving. And so many different tactics that the police have been using.
SAMIRAHAnd I wanted to speak a little bit about Chief Newsham. I witnessed him stand behind police officer lines at Farragut Square and literally as people were leaving, because the curfew had started going back home. They were throwing tear gas and smoke bombs and flash bombs at people. And I have video footage of myself shouting and screaming at the police officers. I didn't see the chief, but making sure that they stopped.
NNAMDIAnd you're saying that that was Metropolitan Police Department officers doing that?
SAMIRAHYes. Yes, Kojo.
NNAMDINot federal officers. Okay. We don't --
SAMIRAHThis was before the military decided -- Trump decided to deploy the military.
NNAMDIOkay. We don't have a lot of time. But on Monday you posted on Twitter that quoting here, "These scenes of authoritarianism were coming out of D.C. last night not my motherland." Your grandparents were Palestinian refugees. And you split your childhood between Chicago and Jordan where you lived until right before the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring was sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi a poor vendor in Tunisia setting himself on fire. These protests were sparked by the death at the hands of police in Minneapolis of a black man. Do you see parallels between those uprisings and this week's protests across the United States?
SAMIRAHAbsolutely, Kojo. I came to American University for undergrad in 2009 just before the Arab Spring had lifted off. And I saw what led up to that. And I was very attached to that moment in world history where we saw how everyday people across the Middle East stood up against dictators that were instituting authoritarian policies and quoting them as if they were supportive of everyday people. They were instituting racist policies -- economically unjust policies against their people and it kept on driving them home -- driving them to the bottom of economic ladders to the point where they were so frustrated and it became a combination of a bunch of catastrophes of economics, of authoritarianism, and it led to mass uprisings. And I don't want that to happen in our country here.
SAMIRAHI think we can resolve our public health issues right away. We have policies in place that are very popular across the board. And we don't need to go down the track of authoritarianism with our ways of dealing with protestors. Both Democrat and Republican, Mayor Bowser is responsible for putting together this curfew as is President Trump.
NNAMDIMohamed Bouazizi is obviously considered a martyr and a lot of people believe that George Floyd is also a martyr. Tom Sherwood, we only have about 30 seconds left with the delegate.
SHERWOODJust clarify, Delegate. You say you saw Police Chief Newsham. And then you talked about all the throwing of tear gas. Did you see Chief Newsham there on the line while that was going on or not? I wasn't clear with your answer. Where did you see Chief Newsham?
SAMIRAHYes, Tom. He walked up to the line where they were blocking on Farragut Square. I forget what that -- I think it was I Street. I'm not sure exactly where on Farragut Square.
SHERWOODJust before all the tear gas?
NNAMDIWe only have about 10 seconds left. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to go a break. Keep Delegate Samirah with us for a minute after the break comes back. And then we'll go to Councilmember Allen. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Delegate Ibraheem Samirah is a Member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing District 86. He'll be on with us for a few more minutes before D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen joins us. Delegate Samirah, I'm not sure you were finished responding to Tom Sherwood's question.
SAMIRAHYeah, so Chief Newsham was behind the line that the Metropolitan Police had put up in Farragut Square, and protesters were moving away from the square and going towards DuPont Circle. And, for some reason, this car popped out of nowhere, a D.C. police cop car just stopped. Two people came out with guns that fire gas and teargas bombs into people's faces. And they were just throwing it, irrationally, for no reason. Nobody was coming at them. And then running into the crowd where -- running into the police force where Chief Newsham was.
SAMIRAHAnd I started screaming. I said, control yourselves. What is going on here? You cannot be doing this to people that have no interest in confronting you.
SHERWOODAnd the chief got lost in all of that?
SAMIRAHHe was behind. I saw him for briefly when they first were forming the line, and then he made a few decisions and walked away. I have video footage of this that I can share.
SHERWOODOkay, good. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIYesterday, Governor Ralph Northam announced that he'll remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Richmond. And many jurisdictions are considering police reform bills, including Richmond and D.C. What do you think of these changes, and what other actions would you like to see politicians make in the wake of these protests?
SAMIRAHWell, with all this darkness, we're very proud, in the Virginia General Assembly, that we passed authority to remove Confederate statues -- and any statue, really, for that matter -- all across Virginia, two localities, to give that decision-making power to them to make that decision. And I think this was long time coming. We planned for it. I don't think this meets the needs of the protesters across Virginia. This is just merely the start. It's symbolic.
SAMIRAHBut the real systems are those that are affecting our everyday health care systems, those that are affecting transportation systems or housing systems. We need to put in public options for people to be able to buy Medicaid-priced health insurance, especially during the pandemic where we know that price gouging by health insurance companies is on the rise. We need to be able to take care of everyday people's lives, more simply put. And symbols are important to take down, but systems are more important to take down.
NNAMDIAny police reform bills in mind, specifically?
SAMIRAHYes. So, we want to make sure that we remove military practices from police exercises. We want to make sure that we don't have the type of policies that are in place that lead to discrimination by police activity. We want to make sure to address why is it that community policing hasn't gone all the way. There's so many bills out there, Kojo, I don't even know where to start. I mean, but the big key here is that we need to redirect funding towards exercises of police that are community policing-oriented. And if they're not community policing-oriented then they need to go to the more effective ways of combating crime, which is enhancing public health for everyday Virginians.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, you get the last question.
SHERWOODVery quickly, Levar Stoney, the mayor of Richmond who was quoted this week as saying, that Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy. Now, I must say I've heard that for 30 years. Is Richmond no longer the capital of the Confederacy?
SAMIRAHIt's absolutely the capital of the Confederacy. Whenever I walk into the capital, you still see the ways of conduct of the Virginia way. That's very problematic when we allow ourselves to sugarcoat the Confederacy like that. It's not just about a couple of statues that we're going to be taking down in Richmond. It's about systems that we need to take down, people that are suffering that don't deserve to be paying such high rent all across Virginia, in Richmond, in particular.
SAMIRAHWe don't deserve police practices, even in Fairfax County. I spoke about D.C. police going to Israel. Fairfax County also sends its chief to Israel to go train on the hands of authoritarians over there. There's so many different things that we need to be addressing right away that are in this very crucial moment of American history right now, where our economy's going into a depression, we have public health crisis and we have racism significantly on the rise and in the public ever since Trump got elected. We need to fight back against this Trump effect. And it's in the pandemic of racism, of systemic injustice, of our society that we need to address right away, so that we can move forward in a strong fashion in this young nation that we have.
NNAMDIIbraheem Samirah's a member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing district 86, which includes parts of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. Thank you so much for joining us.
SAMIRAHThank you so much, Kojo. I appreciate you having me on.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Charles Allen. He's a D.C. councilmember representing Ward 6. Charles Allen, thank you very much for joining us.
CHARLES ALLENThanks so much for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou chair the D.C. Council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which oversees the Metropolitan Police Department. How would you characterize how D.C. police have handled the protests so far?
ALLENWell, I think that, you know, when I talked with protesters -- you know, I went out myself to be an observer of one of the protests. Yeah, I've seen mixed things from our local police. The issues that I've heard around the arrests that took place on 15th and Swan Street troubled me. And we'll certainly be doing oversight into that. Because I was on the phone with observers on the ground at that moment. And what they described to me does not match up with what I heard from the police reports.
ALLENBut I've also seen, in the face of these federal agencies with no insignia, no names, just this deeply offensive federalized militia on our city streets. I've also seen our D.C. police officers that have hung back, in many cases, as supporting peaceful protests. So, I think that there's some mixed results that I've seen, and I have an obligation and a duty to look into and hold oversight for the things that are violations of our people's rights. And that's something we're going to be doing.
NNAMDIYou wrote legislation for an emergency policing reform bill to the D.C. Council to vote on next week. We just interviewed Chief Newsham, and he said you did not consult with him before writing that legislation. Why not?
ALLENWell, I'd recommend he takes a look at the bill. These are many issues that we've been talking about for the last couple of years in our committee, that we've held public hearings on. They come up in our oversights. So, these aren't new issues. But when it comes to police oversight and reform of policing, you don't hand the pen over to the chief of police to write the bill. We're the legislative branch of government. We write the laws. So, none of these issues are new. They've been a part of our public discussions and our hearings thus far.
ALLENBut I think what's important is, I mean, think about the bill that we've got in front of us that we'll vote on Tuesday, if I'd introduced that a year ago, that bill wouldn't have even gotten on my committee. The moment that we have now, frankly, is the product of a lot of people, a lot of D.C. residents. A lot of people have shared their lived experiences. It's the product of voices like Black Lives Matter that have consistently been calling for change.
ALLENAnd I think it's an obligation that we have to meet the moment. But also recognize that it is merely one step in meeting that. We have a budget coming up in several weeks that we'll do more work, and that work continues. But I think we have a moment where we have to meet both the opportunity and obligation that's in front of us.
SHERWOODMr. Allen, give me just a quick thumbnail of what is it you want passed on Tuesday, and are you confident you'll have enough votes? Of course you have to have enough votes to pass it and the mayor will sign it, but a thumbnail, please. Do you want to make police video, body-worn camera video more quickly available? Do you want to bar any kind of chokehold? What else?
ALLENYeah, I mean, it's all about police accountability and transparency. So, there are elements here to just make sure it's crystal clear that it is illegal to do that type of chokehold, neck hold. It speaks to the body-worn camera. You know, when we passed our laws five years ago, we were one of the most progressive places, but we been lapped by many jurisdictions around the country. So, it's speaking to making sure that when there's an officer-involved death, that we release the names of officers. We release the video and give the police department and the mayor 72 hours to do so.
ALLENThere's a lot in this that has to do with making sure we've got strong, independent oversight, like strengthening the Office of Police Complaints, and making sure that we've got the transparency that I think our system demands.
SHERWOODI know one Ward 1 councilmember says we should ban the use of any kind of teargas on demonstrators. Is that part of your bill?
ALLENIt's not in the bill. It's something I'm going to be cosponsoring that legislation so we can take a look at it for a hearing. So, I appreciate Councilmember Nadeau's bill. I'm sorry?
SHERWOODNot emergency? Not emergency? Any teargas...
ALLENIt's not in the bill that's coming up on Tuesday.
SHERWOOD...is not an emergency matter.
ALLENIt's not in the bill on Tuesday, simply because we're adjusting the language.
NNAMDIHere is Jim, in Columbia, Maryland. Jim, your turn.
JIMHi. I just want to make a comment. I was the executive officer of the 600 engineer company, Fort Belvoir, Virginia during the May Day demonstrations, 1972, when the goal of the demonstrators was to shut down the government. Troops were brought in from the Carolinas, from, of course, the Virginia forts, Marines and Army. And all of our training was directed at de-escalation, to de-escalate the situation, even though the demonstrators' goal was to shut down the government.
JIMAnd we had no ammunition. We had rifles and pistols, but we had no ammunition. If there was any physical aggression, we were to leave it to the police to handle that. And the police fired nothing other than so-called teargas. And based on what the White House press secretary said, teargas, as a chemical, hasn't been used since the late '50s and early '60s. What they call teargas now is a micro pulverized solid, CS. There's no such thing as teargas anymore. They just call it teargas. So, anyway...
NNAMDIWell, it was being reported that there were smoke bombs, but what you're saying, and we don't have a great deal of time, do you see a significant difference between how federal law enforcement conducted itself on this occasion and how they did back in 1972?
JIMWell, obviously, it seems to be -- the goal doesn't seem to be to de-escalate. And the idea of even the police firing their weapons, or a weapon, even if it fires so-called rubber bullets, which are described by the manufacturers as less lethal, is definitely not a de-escalation technique.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing those thoughts we us. Charles Allen, at press conferences, Police Chief Peter Newsham and Mayor Muriel Bowser have not given reporters complete details on how they are interacting and communicating with federal law enforcement agencies, or even who they're talking to. What's your reaction to how federal law enforcement has acted during these protests, and do you feel that the mayor and police chief are basically out of the loop?
ALLENWell, I think the federal forces -- we think about the other night, firing upon peaceful protesters, that is nothing short of assault on D.C. residents in our city. It's an abomination. It is an assault that took place against our D.C. residents. What I saw, in terms of the military officers, it's no different than if we had some rightwing militia group that was on the streets of D.C. There's no names. There's no badges. We don't know who these folks are.
ALLENAnd then when I hear reports that you've got, you know, SWAT teams from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I don't have any confidence that those are people who've been trained in de-escalation or peaceful protests. The wrong people are out there, and it's only because you've got Trump that wants to have a show. So, it's deeply concerning around how to do that.
ALLENYou know, when I went out as an observer the other night, I and the Office of Police Complaints, we were stopped, from going down a D.C. public street and were not allowed to pass, by Federal Homeland Security police officers in riot gear. So, there's a big disconnect, and it's a big problem, absolutely.
NNAMDIYou mentioned the Office of Police Complaints. Your bill would make changes to that office by not allowing any of its members to be affiliated with law enforcement. Right now, it's my understanding that one member of that group is affiliated with law enforcement. Why the change?
ALLENI think we are looking at the Office of Police Complaints that is the civilian and civics oversight. And so you don't necessarily need to have the police that are on that -- fielding the Office of Police Complaints. So, what we propose to do is to make sure that that is a civilian-led entity, not something where you have the police there in charge of doing oversight. They have, you know, internal affairs and they've got a disciplinary system there. Our Office of Police Complaints needs to be a civilian oversight body.
SHERWOODI want to ask you about the elections, but first, Saturday, the chief is talking about maybe the largest demonstration yet. Do you anticipate being out on the street tomorrow?
ALLENYeah, I'm looking to do that, and I know many others are, as well. And I think it's because this issue in this moment, frankly, it's even bigger than policing. You know, I think that we have an opportunity, for example, in the budget that's in front of us right now. If we really want to make this budget and some of the efforts we're talking about be about racial equity, then we need to ask something of everybody in our city.
ALLENTake a look at the last 10 years from, you know, 2007 to 2017. Black household income was effectively flat, but white household income increased 16 percent. We just rolled back taxes on high-income households a couple of years ago. I think that -- we're in a tough budget, but I think that we need to be able to look our residents in the eyes, have a conversation about how we need to make stronger investments in our communities of color. And I've been talking about this for the last several weeks, that within this budget, we can and should do a lot more.
SHERWOODOkay. Let me ask you about the elections because you are also chairman of the committee that oversees the elections. And I think everyone agrees it was pretty terrible. So, what degree of responsibility do you take, having been the chairman the last couple of years, that the Elections Board was overwhelmed by the June 2nd election?
ALLENWell, the lines that I saw -- and I went out to the polling sites to talk with voters and try to encourage them to staying -- it was completely unacceptable. And, you know, the Board of Elections is an independent entity, as it should be. It's separate from the mayor or the council. It's not like a D.C. agency, because, obviously, we have our names on the ballots. You need to have that degree of independence. But, at every turn, the Board of Elections was offered support and resources and they said that they had enough. They said that they had it covered.
ALLENAnd for anybody who waited in line for four to five hours, it's simply inexcusable. For people who applied for absentee ballot, and I've heard from so many, they never even got their ballot. You cannot, you cannot mess up an individual's ability to cast their vote. And so there's a failure there. We're going to hold a hearing in two weeks, right after the results are certified, so that we can go into great detail and really examine the leadership decisions that went into this. They had the funding and the resources they need. They didn't execute the election that D.C. residents deserved, and we've got to hold them accountable.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) We're almost out of time. Let me follow up. A week before the elections, Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who's not a member of your committee, went to your hearing or meeting, and she complained that it was clear that you were heading towards disaster. This wasn't a last-minute decision, to have a mail-in vote situation. It seems they weren't staffed ready by people, by technology, or by the anticipation that people would show up on Election Day. It just seemed like a real mess.
ALLENWell, let's look at the election...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Are we going to have the same problem in November? Are you going to look to fix this before November?
ALLENWell, yes. And that's exactly why we're holding a hearing, to be able to make sure because we cannot have a repeat of this. But when you look at the election, four year ago, we had 100,000 people that voted. And we had about 80,000 people that requested their absentees. But there was clearly a failure inside the system that led to huge confusion. I talked with so many voters that were in line who weren't sure if they had actually voted, if they hadn't gotten their absentee.
ALLENAnd so, it's your right to vote. People aren't going to take a gamble with that, and so they're going to show up, and you'll have a lot more people. I heard -- the chair of the board made a quote on Election Day, where he said, who knew that everyone would wait until the last day of voting centers to cast their ballots? Well, it's called Election Day, and so we shouldn't be surprised that people showed up on Election Day. There were failures, and we're going to have a hearing to really dig into it and hold folks accountable.
ALLENIt will not...
NNAMDI...here's Tammy in Washington, D.C. Tammy, your turn.
TAMMYHi, Councilmember. It's Tammy Seltzer with Disability Rights D.C. I wanted to talk about the budget. The mayor's proposed budget really doesn't seem to reflect the current values of our city. There's an increase for the police department, but cuts to the kinds of programs that would prevent people from getting into contact with the police in the first place. Like huge cuts to the Department of Behavioral Health, cuts to reentry services, cuts to legal services for people who need it. What do you think should be done to really right-size this budget to reflect the values that we want going forward?
ALLENThanks, Tammy. I do think this budget needs to be right-sized. You know, from my committee's perspective as we look at -- and next week we'll be holding hearings looking at the MPD budget, there will be cuts to the budget. And we need to take that and then reinvest that in communities of color, which goes beyond, of course, just our Public Safety and Judiciary Committee. We need to be looking at this much more holistically.
ALLENAnd I mentioned earlier, the efforts around increasing revenue, again, we're asking our frontline workers, our teachers to not have the pay increases that they're scheduled to get. But we're not asking anything of our higher-income households to help meet this challenge. I think that's unacceptable, and I think that we need to be able to ask a little something out of everybody, and then take that and put it into the places where we know people are hurting.
ALLENYou take a look just at the public health emergency we're in, which we have two of them that are going on simultaneously, a public health emergency of gun violence and a public health emergency of coronavirus. Both of them deeply impacting disproportionately low-income and communities of color. That is unacceptable to me, that when we're trying to meet those two crises that we're not willing to ask something of everybody. And we need to be able to do that. So, I know that I'm looking at this from our committee. I think that my colleagues are, as well, to make significant change.
ALLENThe protests that are taking place right now in the moment that we're in, it's about changing a system. It's not about nibbling at the edges. And that's what I think this moment calls for us to do, to undertake, and to have the courage to do it.
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood likes to say, this is The Politics Hour. I can use that line, since he stole my line about we're almost out of time. None of the primary results are official yet but after Brandon Todd conceded, it looks like Janeese Lewis Ford will be the new Ward 4 councilmember. And we don't as yet know what's going to happen in Ward 2. But what do you think you'll be able to accomplish with more progressive voices on the council?
ALLENWell, take a look at my own committee, Judiciary and Public Safety. You know, Jack Evans was a member of my committee that effectively was able to hold a key vote that bottled up and stopped a lot of action. So, not having him be back on the council, I've had a chance to talk to Janeese and have met her a couple of times along the way. And I think that she's going to be a very strong leader for Ward 4, and I’m excited to have her come join the council.
ALLENI think that the big issues that we're talking about right now: how do we make a city, how do we build our city in a way where we see every resident, every community be able to thrive and succeed? And how do we help challenge many of the systems that have been roadblocks and been the barriers along the way? I'm excited with what's to come and excited to get to work with some of our new colleagues that'll be coming onboard soon.
SHERWOODWell, that's a good political question. I'm glad we're back to raw politics. You know, there are some people who think you're going to run for chairman of the council in 2022, and that by doing all the work that you're doing to prepare for it, can you tell us today, are you looking to actually run for chairman, even possibly mayor, if Mayor Bowser doesn't run for reelection? Just what are your ambitious plans for public office beyond what you're doing now? And don't say you're just working on your job now.
ALLENTom, I've got the best job in the world. I represent Ward 6. It's the best job in the world.
SHERWOODWe should ban those, along with teargas. No, seriously, people think you might -- you could be a de facto chairman. What does -- Chairman Mendelson doesn't like the tilt of the council at this point. Are you thinking about running for chairman?
ALLENRight now, I'm focused on what we have in front of us, which is a very difficult budget that we've got to come up with solutions...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) In politics language, that's a yes. In politics language, that's a yes. There's either no, or I’m thinking about doing my own job.
ALLENTom, we have a lot of challenges in front of us right now. I know this is Politics Hour, and we love to speculate. Right now, I'm focused like a laser on what we've got to do.
SHERWOODYou had no problem speaking about Janeese George. That was politics. I was just thinking yourself, you've got to consider yourself. And don't let Erik Salmi call me after this. He's your press person. Tell him not to call me.
NNAMDICheck your phone, Tom. (laugh) Between the protests and the primary this week, we sometimes forget about COVID-19. Do you think the District might need to shut down again if we see a spike in cases?
ALLENWell, I think we've got to -- we have to let the data and the science lead us. I mean, that's very key for us, is to make sure that we let the science and the data lead those decisions. And I think that's what's going to be paramount, here. And I know you're wrapping up, so I just want to be able to say, in all of these moments -- and I think I heard, earlier, people talk about the fact that this is kind of an unprecedented moment that we're in right now. And I think that's very true.
ALLENYou know, I do think about the fact that we've got to let the voices of lived experience really be the leaders here, you know. And I'm not the one that should always be the one talking about what type of criminal justice or policing reforms we have, as a white man. I'm very aware of that. But I also know that, as chair of the committee that oversees these, it's my duty and obligation. And so I'm really grateful for so many of the voices that have been leading along the way, and my colleagues as well, as we meet this challenge.
NNAMDICharles Allen, thank you so much for joining us. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Join us for the next Kojo in Your Virtual Community on racial disparities during the pandemic. We'll explore how the coronavirus has hit people of color especially hard, and what's being done to lessen health care inequality. The program starts at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9th. It's free but you need to register at kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIComing up Monday, as protests against police brutality and racism continue across the country, many parents are trying to work out how to talk about racial disparities with their kids. We'll discuss tackling these tough conversations at home, plus as the NBA gets ready to resume playing this summer, Washington Wizard Ish Smith joins us on Kojo for Kids. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Tom Sherwood, will you be out and about, driving around the city this weekend?
SHERWOODI won't be driving, but I'll be walking around with my mask and hand sanitizer to observe the demonstrations Saturday.
NNAMDIOkay. Well, you be safe, and everyone else have a good weekend and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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