The Ithaca Journal reminds us this morning that two years ago today an unknown arsonist burned down the home of Ithaca Police officer Bryan Bangs. Two years later, there are still no leads.
The arson came a few months after Bangs shot and killed Greenwood in the parking lot of Pete’s Wine & Liquor Store on West Buffalo Street in Ithaca, NY. Police officers carrying a warrant were intercepting a drug deal when Greenwood attempted to flee the scene in his van, striking an officer in the process. Fearing the officer’s life was in danger, Bangs shot and killed Greenwood. Greenwood’s family and supporters openly criticized police handling of the altercation, saying his death could have been prevented. The district attorney and the court would find the shooting justified. (You can read the DA’s report here).
Since then, local police have made little to no effort to reach out to the public; quite the contrary, people have every reason to trust the police less and less. Last August, Ithaca Police officer Brandon Goldsberry shot and killed 20-year-old Keith Shumway, a story I took interest in after I learned Shumway grew up in Harvey’s Lake, PA, about 5 miles west of my hometown. Despite overwhelming ambiguity in the case, (the report claimed Shumway reached into the driver side window and ripped the gun from Goldsberry’s holster, quite a feat) the story failed to fuel the same type of community outrage. If anything, the lack of response showed the community’s complacency with police brutality. As one resident who knew Shumway told me: “This is just a case of another kid being shot by the police, and they’re gonna get away with it because people don’t want to step forward. They’re afraid of the Ithaca Police Department.”
Keith Shumway with his 2-year-old daughter, Shynowah Nicole Moon Webster. Photo courtesy of the Shumway Family.
Across the country, the story is the same. Kenneth Chamberlain, Trayvon Martin, and Marissa Alexander are just a few names that come to mind, not to mention the countless peaceful protestors across the country who put their bodies on the line to stand up against brutality and oppression.
We, as taxpayers and citizens, fear the very people who we pay to protect us.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick recently reached out to his constituents via his Facebook page, which has evolved into a public forum for local residents to openly address their concerns. Myrick asked interested followers to consider serving on the Community Police Board, In the mayor’s words, the board serves as “a way to file a formal complaint by citizens to members of the Police Department for actions performed in the line of duty, which asks for an investigation and resolution between the parties.”
Every city in the United States should have such a board, and the fact that Ithaca’s is in need of revival highlights an important point. At at time when cities, counties and municipalities across the country are slashing funds to public services at unprecedented levels, a thriving city needs honest police officers now more than ever.
The presence of a Community Police Board implies an important point: Having a positive relationship between the police and the public should not only be the responsibility of the police. It is equally the duty of private citizens to ensure that police carry out their duties in a manner that respects the rights of all citizens.
As UC Berkeley professor Arthur Blaustein once said, democracy is not a spectator sport. It’s time we behave as such.