This is a letter to the editor from Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). To submit opinion letters, please review our letters policy here and submit them to Managing Editor Thomas Giery Pudney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fellow residents of Tompkins County,
While Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne has publicly stated support for police reforms after the murder of George Floyd, he was not present at the meeting of Sheriffs of the Southern Tier in Broome County on July 15th to fight the backlash of his peers. We can’t know if his participation could stop the legislative proposals the other cops from Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, and Tioga counties concocted. However, it is difficult to imagine that his participation could have resulted in a worse outcome.
Nine weeks of protests against racist police brutality has led to a sea change in mainstream engagement with police reform and abolition. The Sheriffs of the Southern Tier chose to respond with a huge push back.
Led by Broome County Sheriff David Harder, who called the Binghamton grassroots activist groups PLOT and JUST “stupid”, the sheriffs complained about NYS bail reform, which is estimated to reduce pretrial jail populations by 40 percent. The majority of people waiting in jail pretrial are Black and Brown people who simply lack the funds for their freedom.
Name-calling aside, it is the proposed policies designed to protect police officers that are terrifying. Every person who has said Black Lives Matter in the last few months needs to fight these proposals; especially Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne. Immediate action required.
One alarming proposal is to make resisting arrest a felony, punishable up to 4 years in prison. Completely out of sync with the progress we are witnessing in the nation to hold police officers more accountable for use of force, this change would incarcerate more Brown and Black people who instinctively resist attacks by police officers.
Another proposal is to make “failure to retreat” a felony, punishable up to 7 years in prison. This requires that those witnessing police in action maintain a distance of 25 yards. It isn’t possible to properly document police abuse with a cell phone from more than 25 yards away. The increased use of cell phones to record police incidents has brought a sliver of justice to communities whose cries of injustice were ignored for years before this illuminating tool of documentation.
Yet another deplorable proposal criminalizes “doxing” of police officers. It seems likely that victims and protestors revealing the identity of violent police officers in efforts to hold them accountable will be told that their intent was malicious and they have, ironically, committed a hate crime. What an erosion of civil rights!
What are our elected county officials doing to keep federal law enforcement out of our county in the wake of Department of Homeland Security’s attempts to occupy the local law enforcement niche in Portland and elsewhere in the country? Why didn’t they show up to speak out against these sheriffs’ proposed legislative changes? What “reforms” has Sheriff Osbourne put in place since his election? What is the Tompkins County task force for law enforcement doing and with whose input?
Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice Leadership Team
Richard W. Franke