On the recommendation of several people I trust an admire, I decided to write a letter to Mayor Pete directly about the recent events in our community (rather than continue my snark campaign). I hope to hear back from him, and -- if he gives me permission -- I will post his reply here.
Dear Mayor Pete,
I've worked on a few pretty big projects in my lifetime, though none as big or as complex as running an entire city. By and large, I think you, your team, the Common Council, and many others responsible for moving South Bend forward are doing a great job. One thing I know, though, from my limited experiences working on big projects, is that things don't always look the same to those "on the inside" as they do to those "on the outside." A prudential lay motivated judgment that truly has the best interest of the group in mind, can sometimes come across to those who weren't at the meetings as callous, or even intentionally cruel.
I'm writing to you today to tell you what the DeShawn Franklin case looks like from the outside, and to beg you to address this issue swiftly and decisively for the good of our city.
You are quote in the Washington Post as saying, “One thing that’s really important is that people don’t get the impression that civil rights are not taken seriously and that constitutional rights are not valued..."
But Mayor Pete, what is supposed to offset that impression? I trust you quite a bit (I think you have the good of our city at heart), but -- as I'm sure you know, and as is to be expected to be the case with any public figure -- not everyone does. And even those of us who do think you are acting in good will are finding it hard to understand how your claim -- that constitutional rights really are valued here in South Bend (especially the constitutional rights of the already vulnerable members of our community) -- could possibly be true. Immediately after the trial, WNDU reported that "The city issued a brief written statement on the verdict saying it “appreciates the fair outcome of this legal process” and will “examine what lessons can be learned to improve processes and training.”"
So the city really thought that justice was served? That this was a *fair* outcome? That officer Knepper and others in the SBPD force who have a *history* of abuse had been held properly accountable?
On top of that, it was reported that "a court request has been filed seeking to force the Franklins to cover some of the legal bills of the police officers: nearly $1,500 worth."
How are we -- on the outside of this process -- supposed to *avoid* the impression that South Bend doesn't value civil rights, when citizens are literally being asked to pay for defending those same rights in court?
I admit: I do not understand the nuances of the case (in part because it has been under reported), but -- Mayor Pete -- the facts we know are damning, and we have neither seen nor heard *anything* from your, the administration, the SBPD, or the Common Council that could possibly offset the impression that, in South Bend, you are expected to pay for your constitutional rights; that in South Bend police misconduct is treated with the seriousness of a parent reprimanding a toddler; that in South Bend some lives matter more than others, and that accountability and transparency in policing are -- frankly -- something for which we may have to pay extra.
I hope you can appreciate why I've taken a certain tone in this email. I'm bewildered by this case. I'm angry that members of our community are hurting. I'm furious that -- from my perspective -- the city is complicit in an aggressive and *ongoing* injustice, perpetrated against one of its own. I hope and pray that we as a community -- with you as our leader -- can resolve this issue quickly and in a way that builds unity, rather than breeding resentment.
Will you please do everything in your power to stop any legal proceedings against DeShawn and his family (if that's not in your power, will you join me and those in the community in figuring out who could make this happen)? Will you please award the Franklin's what you think is a more just market price for the violation of their constitutional rights ($15k sounds pretty meager to me...)? And will you please take immediate action to ensure that officer Knepper is held properly accountable (I cannot imagine what this would look like short of dismissal from the force)?
All my best,