Featured image: “Progress moves at the speed of trust. Collectively see, learn, do.” Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) blog. Photograph source: https://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/09/collaboration-for-learning-notes-from-the-public-libraries-stem-conference/public-libraries-stem-9
I submitted this comment to the City of Troy PRRC via email and via the Troy City Council’s public forum on March 25, 2021. To submit written comments to the City of Troy PRRC, email PoliceRRC@troyny.gov or send by mail to: City Hall, Office of the Mayor, 433 River Street, Troy NY 12180, c/o Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative.
My name is Chel Miller. I live in Downtown Troy, which is on occupied and unceded Muh-he-con-neok, or Mohican, land.
I am here to honor the experiences of Black and brown community members who have spoken out, and those who will not speak for fear of retaliation. I cannot speak to their experiences, because I have not lived them, but I can talk about violence prevention and what keeps us safe.
I am a survivor-advocate, meaning I am a survivor of sexual violence, and I spend my days advocating for other survivors of violence at the community, state, and national level. Through my personal experiences and my work, I have come to understand that we can only prevent violence and promote community safety by shifting our focus upstream.
This involves a thorough understanding of systemic oppressions that shape our society and our city—racism, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, ableism, and so many more. Systemic oppression shapes what is recognized as violence, who is most vulnerable to experiencing or witnessing violence, what healing and justice options are available, and how those who commit violence are treated and held accountable. Systemic oppression shapes who does or does no come into conflict with the law and who survives encounters with law enforcement.
Any plan to address police violence must demonstrate an understanding of how these systems show up in our community. The behavior of members on the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative in the City of Troy, particularly the mayor and the police chief, demonstrates that they do not have an understanding of these systems. During last month’s listening sessions, the police chief insisted that systemic racism does not exist in Troy. The report further demonstrates that city leadership does not understand and cannot recognize systemic oppression when it stares them in the face.
Shifting our focus upstream also means investing in the people of Troy. Investing in opportunities for our communities to thrive—like healthcare, mental health services, housing, education, food security, services related to substance abuse, and community interventions that reduce arrests and incarceration—are proven strategies for promoting safe and healthy communities and preventing violence. Any plan to address police violence must include plans to invest in the community. This report does not address how the City of Troy will invest in the people of Troy and the social services we are asking for.
The report does talk a lot about task forces. I have a few things to say about that.
Troy does not need a task force to think about whether a mental health crisis intervention team is needed—community members clearly argued for this need during listening sessions.
Troy does not need a work group to think about whether diversion programs for youth are needed—community members clearly argued for this need during listening sessions.
Troy does not need a committee to hire more Black and brown cops—Black and brown community members have expressed that demographic representation will not protect them. Not to mention, your police department currently faces a lawsuit alleging that Black officers have endured systemic racism in your agency.
Troy does not need a citizen police academy to educate civilians about how the police department works—community members know how the police department works and we know that police departments were never designed to protect Black and brown communities.
The report demonstrates that the City of Troy refuses to listen to its constituents, even after holding 9 listening sessions.
The report talks a lot about trust. I have some questions about trust.
I ask the Mayor and the City of Troy:
How do you expect us to trust you?
- When you did not engage in good faith efforts to gather input from the community?
- When you dragged your feet for 8 months before announcing that you’ve formed a committee with minimal, if any, community input?
- When your listening sessions were not accessible to community members who have inconsistent internet access, whose primary language is not English, or who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing?
- When you dismissed community members’ calls for investment in mental health services?
- When community members will not join public listening sessions for fear of retaliation from the City of Troy and Rensselaer County?
- When you continue to target predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods?
Finally, how do you expect us to trust you when we have not seen justice or accountability for the murder of Edson Thevenin in April 2016, or the attempted murder of Dahmeek Mcdonald in 2018? Where have you demonstrated transparency or accountability for your actions and your officers’ actions?
We can only move at the speed of trust. If we do not pass a plan by April 1, so be it. Let the Attorney General install a monitor, if that is passed in the state budget. Let city leadership feel the weight of financial insecurity that so many community members feel. The City has taken its sweet time to develop a plan. Community members deserve the time it takes to make a plan that works for this city. Community members deserve to know and trust that we have been heard. We deserve better.
Thank you for your time.