This article is the opinion of Brian Beach.
For a brief moment at Lincoln’s Malone Center on Wednesday, June 3, it seemed as if the perils of 2020 had taken a pause. Members of the Lincoln Police Department joined police brutality protesters and began a series of line dances, including the Cupid Shuffle, after a rally. I did not take part in the dancing (partly due to my own dancing ineptitude and partly due to COVID-19), but I could not help but sense hope in the moment. It felt as if we had just cured both the coronavirus and racism. This moment of unity between cops and protesters in Lincoln was so inspiring — it even found its way into a Jimmy Kimmel monologue.
However, while the dancing created a great video opportunity that showed cooperation, it is not enough to make up for years of systematic violence and oppression. Some may consider this dance video as just another piece of “copaganda,” used to distract from the real issues at hand and obscure the violence of cops at other protests.
I would not go so far as to say the dancing has a negative impact on the movement, but it certainly needs to be backed up with something more. Much more. The reason for this event at the Malone Center was the agreement between LPD and black community leaders to a Hold Cops Accountable initiative, which creates a monthly meeting at the Malone Center, a historically African American community center, for community members to voice their frustrations, concerns and even compliments to the Lincoln Police Department.
I’m not sure I would immediately engage in a dance party with my accusers if someone expressed concerns and encouraged me to sign a “hold opinion columnists accountable” agreement, but the moment is definitely worth celebrating among anyone who wants to see a change in Lincoln’s policing.
I wholeheartedly endorse the Hold Cops Accountable initiative, and I believe that this is the right way to achieve meaningful police reform in Lincoln. It is also imperative that Lincolnites who care about ending police brutality engage in and contribute to the conversations that the initiative will bring about.
I am aware that some activists might feel like conversations and meetings with cops won’t change anything and that we need more drastic systematic change.
They are absolutely right. These meetings, on their own, will not change anything. Much like how the protests, on their own, are not changing anything. Instead, they are paving the way for real policy change by bringing attention to an issue that has been ignored in this community for far too long. These meetings are just the next logical step.
I am sure that many people, myself included, would much rather see the police agree to a long list of demands for reform today instead of more conversations, but these conversations are key to creating policy that is supported and understood by the community and the police department.
The Hold Cops Accountable agreement will also create unity, or at least understanding, within the police reform movement. While many protesters are united in fixing the problem of police brutality, there is still disagreement on how to solve this problem. Some are advocating for hiring more police officers, while others want to defund police departments instead. Many people, myself included, are still educating ourselves on these positions that we learned about a week ago. With such wide-ranging (and sometimes paradoxical) solutions, it is important for leaders of the movement to put together succinct demands that can be acted upon, and these conversations will hopefully help make that happen.
This article is not going to discuss the merits of individual policy changes, but, if you want to learn more about what specifically is being proposed by black activists, you can read more here.
That brings up another point: black activists need to be at the forefront of this conversation because they are the community that has been the most affected by current policing policies. Hold Cops Accountable meetings are led by Malone Center employees, community group members, local area law enforcement officials and members of the Mayor’s Multicultural Advisory Committee.
Community conversations have resulted in LPD taking action before. Throughout 2016, LPD had a series of five community conversations that, according to the report “Strengthening Community and Police Relations Through a Series of Community Conversations,” resulted in many recommendations and suggestions, as well as LPD providing diversity education over two weeks for all personnel in the department.
I recognize that many community members want to see more sweeping reform than two weeks of diversity training, but my point is that some changes can directly occur from these meetings. And if people want to see more drastic changes, it is vital that community members speak out at these meetings and demand more drastic changes.
Perhaps I have too much faith in institutions and the power of conversation. After all, as a white male, institutions have worked pretty well for me, and I feel my complaints are usually well taken. But I understand that not everyone shares that same experience. However, LPD has agreed to listen to protesters, and Lincolnites should take them up on that opportunity in good faith.
If demands are not met, there are other forms of enacting real change such as voting. The movement should not stall just because the current police force refuses to make changes. I am not saying that Hold Cops Accountable meetings will create all the changes that the black community in Lincoln needs. I am simply saying that it is an important start.
These protests have been a great start on the path to real change. But they are just the beginning. The Hold Cops Accountable discussions need to be taken seriously by both community members and LPD in order to keep this movement going forward toward meaningful reform.
The first Hold Cops Accountable meeting will be held June 25 at 6 p.m. at the Malone Center, and the meeting records will be public. It should be worth your time.
Brian Beach is a sophomore journalism major. Reach him at email@example.com.