Transcript, Web links and Credits below.
Let’s talk about your mayor. And my mayor too.
Listen — the American legal system is amazingly complex. It took hundreds of years and millions of laws to build it. It’s fundamentally racist. It criminalizes poverty and mental illness. And over 10 million people per year are caught up in it. That’s more than any country in the history of the world.
And those of us committed to dismantling it have found that the local District Attorney has a HUGE hand in changing it. And so we’ve helped elect District Attorneys all over the country to do great work. But today, I want to talk to you about your Mayor and just how much power and how much sway your local Mayor often has over your local legal system. Remember, we’re not calling it a justice system because it doesn’t produce a lot of justice. And we damn sure aren’t calling it the criminal justice system because it criminalizes people long before they’ve even been found guilty. It’s a legal system.
So today, we’re going to dig in to how much influence local Mayors really have on this system and how we can leverage them to do so much more!
Let’s dig in.
This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!
No single person has more power, more juice, more authority, more sway in cities than your local Mayor. They have more power than a Senator, more power in your city than a Governor, more power than a Congressperson. As far as local policies go, as far as local budgets go, your local Mayor has more actual power in your city than the President of the United States.
In the United States, we have a little over 285 cities with over 100,000 or more residents. Each of those cities have mayors. And those 285 cities have the strongest political systems for mayors and where mayors are truly like the CEO of the city. We have 1,419 cities with 30,000 or more residents. Now we actually have nearly 20,000 towns and cities with under 100,000 residents and nearly 2/3rds of those also have Mayors, sometimes they have county executives, and really strong city councils, but right now we estimate that nearly 80% of all Americans live in urban areas with strong mayors. That’s 4 out of 5 Americans.
Over the past 3 years, alongside some other organizers and activists, we’ve worked around the clock to let you know just how much control your local District Attorney has over the local legal system. Ninety-nine percent of all cases come through their office, but in communicating to you just how much power the District Attorney has, we unintentionally let somebody else off the hook.
It’s your local mayor. The DA sees 99% of all criminal cases and chooses who to charge and how to charge them and how to prosecute them and who to let off and who to give a deal to — all of which is extremely powerful. But, your local Mayor has WAY more sway over the local legal system than we have actually talked about.
And as a result, they’ve gotten away, with just a few exceptions, like my friends Chokwe Lumumba, who is the Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi and Ras Baraka, who is the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Mayors in this country have not been held accountable for their role in mass incarceration, in police brutality, and in so much that is horribly wrong with the systems we have right now.
Let me break it down. (Break it down music)
As you may know, right now we have two current Mayors running for President — that’s Bill de Blasio of my hometown of New York and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. And we also have several former Mayors also running, including Cory Booker, who is the former Mayor of Newark, and if you go waaaayyyy back, you even have a man by the name of Bernard Sanders who used to be the Mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
And in the debates, as you may have seen, it’s starting to come up that Mayor de Blasio and Mayor Pete have not only failed in many ways to properly address the issues of police brutality and police misconduct in their hometowns, but when you bring it up to them, both men act completely powerless — like they can’t say or do anything about police brutality or mass incarceration in their cities. And it’s just not true.
Mayors have a lot more power over unethical, corrupt, and abusive police than Mayor Pete and Mayor de Blasio want to acknowledge. They are the leaders of their cities, usually exerting direct control over the police chief, with internal and external governing and accountability measures at their disposal. They often have the power to intervene and fire other officers as well.
Mayors who are concerned about police misconduct can dramatically impact whether and how unethical officers are held accountable:
- Mayors can typically appoint or fire their police chiefs.
- Mayors largely control the policies that govern when police are required to turn over body camera footage. For example, in Washington, DC, the mayor has the authority to release body camera footage in “matters of significant public interest.”
- Mayors appoint and remove members of public safety boards, which determine whether there is cause to fire an officer, and independent review boards, which investigate and prosecute police misconduct.
- Mayors can create or support civilian review panels to provide oversight and find ways for police to build trust with their communities.
- Mayors can direct police departments to focus budgets on better technology and data that will increase transparency, rather than increasing the number of weapons and force available.
- Mayors can cooperate with and publicly support other stakeholders in the legal system who help keep police accountable: For instance, prosecutors who adopt “do not call” policies which keep officers known for unethical behavior off the witness stand.
But here’s what I’ve come to know — Mayors want us, need us even, to think that they don’t have that much power over policing. It allows them to take credit when something goes well, but also to shirk the blame when something falls apart. That’s what Mayor de Blasio has done for 5 straight years with the murder of Eric Garner — pretending like he has no power – when he could’ve intervened 5 damn years ago. Same with Mayor Pete right now in South Bend. I like Mayor Pete as a person. I’ve talked to him. Brilliantly smart dude, but right now in South Bend the community is IRATE over how he has handled the police murder of a brother named Eric Logan there in the city.
Which brings me to our action steps for today. (Action Steps Music)
First, if you have not already signed up to be a part of our Action Team at TheActionPAC.com, please do so now! This is how we email and contact and stay in touch with you as we fight for social and political change together.
But here’s what we want you to start working on. It sounds simple, but we need you to simply email and call your local Mayor’s office and ask them for two things:
- What’s your plan to change, reform, and improve the local legal system. In your email you might wanna go ahead and call it the criminal justice system so they know what you’re talking about. But what’s their plan? Can they send it to you? And then we’d love for you to send it to us, ok?
- I want you to ask them a question they probably don’t get asked much. Ask them what powers they have as Mayor over the local justice/legal system. Ask them to detail those powers for you.
And then I want to know what you find, ok? Email us at TheBreakdown@TheNorthStar.com.
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Take care everybody.
Produced by Willis Polk II