Last May, as I prepared to ramp up my run for City Council, I had the excellent opportunity, for the first time in my life, to sit down with a police chief. Early in my career as an activist, I would not have been able to move my personal feelings and negative experiences with police to the side to have such a meeting. Chief Murphy was new, fresh from the outside, and breaking through the barriers first as a woman and then as an African American deserves honor and sincere recognition. Rising to the top of any field requires an incredible work ethic, intelligence, and uncompromising standard of yourself and those in your midst.
I wasn't sure what would come of the meeting, but I admitted my surprise when Chief Murphy obliged and was serious about having a discussion. What if more leaders did precisely that? Got to know people for themselves and gave them a listening ear even if the feedback was harsh? We met at a coffee shop, and when the chief arrived, she chastised me for not allowing her to buy my coffee. She was genuine, personable, and kind. We discussed her thoughts on patrol, successful programming like CAHOOTs, and addressing pernicious police violence toward the citizenry. I only agreed with some perspectives she gave, but she wasn't out of touch or unwilling to connect with the community. I feel she understood the importance of leaning into the community, particularly those underserved who traditionally haven't had a positive experience with law enforcement in less privileged neighborhoods. When we agreed to stay in touch and parted ways, I felt changes could happen for the first time in recent years.
So imagine my shock months later when she made the toughest decision in her career and removed officers from duty whom a federal agency found questionable. The last time we saw a bold move like that was when Chief Fletcher fired officers in 2015 and 2016 for various infractions that brought dishonor to the department and distrust to the community. What Chief Murphy decided to do was familiar. It wasn't "woke" or some tactic derived from left-leaning politics. She was doing her job as those with integrity have done before her. The difference in this administration is former Mayor Andy Berke never got in the way of Chief Fletcher or usurped his power because of a whining police union.
Does the police union run the department or the chief who is voted in by council power?
If the legislative and executive branches appoint the chief, why would any mayor go around her to set up an ad-hoc board when she made her decision?
Why has the mayor and City Council not spoken about the legal impact on prior cases? Violations of due process? Or little accountability for a crime as serious as perjury?
Why do the taxpayers continue to be unable to hold city employees accountable just because they have a badge?
I don't imagine on any job, you can not only misrepresent the facts in affidavits but also be sworn in a court of law, and those testimonies are found to be untrue, and you still keep your job and pension. Then the taxpayers have to settle with the lying officers on the backend. What kind of message does this send to the citizenry? Despite the chief's desire to hold officers to the highest standard, she will not be allowed to do so by the same person who hired her. Such actions render Chief Murphy a powerless diversity hire or token, despite her best intentions. The status quo of officer misconduct and a filthy department culture that seeks to silence any call for accountability. There is no way we can repair longstanding harm to the community if the people on the inside can't clean up historically prejudiced and racial institutions. You can't fix the present without dealing with the past.
Mayor Kelly should not be allowed to have such proximity to the black community as he uses our bodies as cover to uphold a racist system. Mayor Kelly needs to fall in line, and he should be feeling immense pressure from the community for his actions. He doesn't tap dance for the police union. Mayor Kelly works for the community.
Chief Murphy, keep your head up. I see you. Stand on your square, and don't lose hope for our sake.
Marie R. Mott