The Charlottesville Human Rights Commission has sent a letter asking the city government, specifically the City Council and the city police department, to do more to prevent police violence.
“The Charlottesville Human Rights Commission stands in solidarity with the victims of police violence in Virginia and throughout the nation. We also call upon our own City to commit to transformational change of our own law enforcement efforts. The Human Rights Commission strongly believes that the disparate treatment of Black and brown residents in Charlottesville is an urgent human rights issue,” the letter says.
Mary Bauer, chair of the Human Rights Commission, said the letter was primarily written in response to events that have occurred locally and across the state and the country, including a traffic stop in Windsor, where two police officers pointed guns at U.S. Army Medic Caron Nazario, a Black and Latino man, as well as the killing of Daunte Wright, a Black Minneapolis man who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop.
The letter was released just hours before former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd.
“It is impossible to overstate the trauma that Black and brown community members are forced to endure as each new incident of police violence comes to light. We must act now to ensure that further incidents do not happen in our own City,” the letter says.
“Any of these horrific incidents could have happened in Charlottesville. For example, the appalling and violent treatment of LaQuinn Gilmore involved a shocking abuse of force by police in our City, but easily could have ended even more terribly. And Charlottesville resident Xzavier D. Hill, age 18, was killed by the Virginia State Police earlier this year while driving in nearby Goochland County.”
Bauer said that preventing these incidents from happening here starts with demanding more transparency from the Charlottesville Police Department, particularly when it comes to the department’s budget.
“We’re really focused on the budget long term because budget is a product of our values. If we want to prevent these kinds of incidents, we need to look at what we’re funding and why,” Bauer said.
The $18.9 million police department budget for the 2022 fiscal year has been widely criticized by community members and even city councilors, primarily for not listing line-item expenditures. The budget allocates $15,604,002 to salaries and benefits. The rest — $3,305,966 — is allocated as “other expenditures.”
Councilor Lloyd Snook has been critical of the police budget not including much detail, referring to it as an “$18 million black box” during a March 1 meeting. He told The Daily Progress earlier this month that he hadn’t gotten much more transparency or information prior to the budget vote.
“Seeing a budget that is a combination of line-item numbers is of very little value,” Snook said. “To know how much money is going to salaries doesn’t tell us anything about what those salaried people are doing.”
Bauer said that while it is important to push for transparency in the next budget, the city needs to make changes now rather than waiting.
“We need to ask questions and demand answers. What is that $18 million paying for? It’s not a good enough answer to say personnel. How are the personnel, specifically, spending their time?” Bauer said.
Bauer said that the Human Rights Commission wants the police department to present more data on what officers specifically spend time doing and to assess whether it is appropriate for the department to handle traffic and parking violations. The letter commends Charlottesville City Schools for removing school resource officers.
The letter asks the city to answer the following questions: what functions are currently performed by the police; how much does each of these functions cost; and which of those functions could be better performed by people or entities who are not law enforcement carrying weapons?
In 2019, a review of Charlottesville police data found that African Americans were nearly five times more likely to be arrested than any other race in the city based on their population. The 2019 data found that African Americans made up more than half of arrests in the city over the past five years for mostly petty crimes typically associated with drugs, recidivism and socioeconomic status.
“In 2019 the Human Rights Commission’s Policing subcommittee responded to requests from Chief Brackney to review the CPD’s biased-based policing, use of force, and constitutional policies. The Commission reviewed the policies and attempted to meet with representatives from the police department to discuss proposed changes to the policy. The Commission made numerous attempts to meet with CPD staff without success,” the letter says.
The letter also asks the city to take greater strides toward a mental health response system that is divested from the police.
“While the mental health task force created by Councilor Snook and Councilor Magill is a step in the right direction, it has yet to fully realize or implement a mental health crisis response program that could save lives,” the letter says.
Bauer said that while she knows that some city councilors have cited state legal impediments to creating a mental health response system quickly, she and commission members think the council could be doing more to work in that direction and create ideas for what it could look like.
“We’re talking about Charlottesville taking a really transformational approach in the way we look at law enforcement and being the leader in the commonwealth and beyond. We think of ourselves as progressive; we should be a place where we can think in new ways,” Bauer said.