Should We #FireKnepper?

A picture from yesterday's protest at the SBPD station. The protest was led by members of the Nu Black Power Movement, and was organized to call for the firing of Officer Aaron Knepper. Photo credit: Michael Caterina, South Bend Tribune

A picture from yesterday's protest at the SBPD station. The protest was led by members of the Nu Black Power Movement, and was organized to call for the firing of Officer Aaron Knepper. Photo credit: Michael Caterina, South Bend Tribune

Yesterday, The Nu Black Power Movement of South Bend organized a protest across the from SBPD station. Organizers and participants were calling for Chief Ruszkowski and Mayor Buttigieg to do everything in there power to fire Officer Aaron Knepper (this would include making a recommendation to the Board of Health and Safty that Knepper be fired on the part of the Chief, and for the Mayor to do the same, or to restructure this board -- or appoint new or different members -- to make this happen). In case you've missed it, here's a partial list of Officer Knepper's abusive behavior: 

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I've written about holding Knepper accountable before

In this morning's South Bend Tribune article on yesterday's protest (entitled "Mayor Asks for Patience as Outcry Grows Over Police Officer") , Mayor Pete Buttigieg is quote as saying the following:

  •  "I don’t think this can be resolved by targeting any individual," he said. "It can only be resolved by making sure we have a higher level of trust in the community that’s borne out by consistently positive behavior and consistently fair discipline.”
  • Fair discipline precludes making such important personnel decisions based on protests or an individual's popularity, the mayor argued.
  • “They’re based on a process that takes (into account) evidence and procedure,” he said, also noting that discipline for all of Knepper's publicized incidents except the Butler arrest has been resolved.
  • “Here we have cases where the disciplinary process has played out years ago,” he said. “And officers aren’t disciplined, just like citizens aren’t tried, for the same thing more than once.”

Let me just add some commentary here...

  •  "I don’t think this can be resolved by targeting any individual," he said. "It can only be resolved by making sure we have a higher level of trust in the community that’s borne out by consistently positive behavior and consistently fair discipline.”

First off, no one believes that "this" can be resolved by targeting any individual. "This" is much bigger than the pattern of abuse and indiscretion that Officer Knepper has perpetrated. So of course "this" won't be resolved by firing him.  

But that is the place to start. 

Knepper is a serial abuser of power. He has proved himself, over and over and over, to be incapable of policing this community. He must go. 

And further, I think we all agree that "this" can "only be resolved by making sure we have a higher level of trust," etc, etc, ETC. How does the Mayor propose to build that trust? How does he aim to display "consistently fair discipline" if we have an ongoing, unpunished injustice that is being allowed to stand? If the City wants to demonstrate it's commitment to "consistently fair discipline," it can start by firing Aaron Knepper. Today, not tomorrow. 

  • Fair discipline precludes making such important personnel decisions based on protests or an individual's popularity, the mayor argued.

Last I checked, we live in a democracy. The City, the SBPD, the Common Council -- they work for us, the people of the community. If process has failed over and over (as it has in this case) to ensure that we have fair policing, it is our democratic right to demand that our leaders be held accountable. So I guess I don't really get what the Mayor means by this "argument."

  • “They’re based on a process that takes (into account) evidence and procedure,” he said, also noting that discipline for all of Knepper's publicized incidents except the Butler arrest has been resolved.

Here's the kicker: the Mayor is asking for patience. Patience for what, though? He's not asking for our patience as he, the Chief, and the Board of Health and Safety decide how best to punish Knepper's history of abuse. He admits here that there is no on-going disciplinary proceedings. I guess he's asking for our patience while the whole criminal justice system reforms itself and gets rid of systemic injustice? 

Our whole point is: Knepper has not been adequately disciplined. This injustice is ongoing until he is. And the only acceptable discipline is dismissal from the force in such a way that he is never allowed to police here or in any other community ever again. 

  • “Here we have cases where the disciplinary process has played out years ago,” he said. “And officers aren’t disciplined, just like citizens aren’t tried, for the same thing more than once.”

Two parting thoughts: try Knepper for the pattern of abuse that has emerged. Maybe we can't go back and re-try Knepper just for the DeShawn Franklin case, or just for the 7-11 incident, or just for the Stevens case -- but is there really no way for the City (the Chief, the Board of Health and Safety) to punish patterns of abuse? That would be extremely alarming since such patterns can themselves constitute abuses. Think of sexual harassment. No one comment or off-color joke is sexual harassment (if it doesn't reach a certain level of offensiveness, etc) -- but a pattern of such behavior does.  

By the Mayor's logic, mechanisms of accountability ought not to be able to punish patterns of abuse like sexual harassment. I know that he doesn't believe that -- but I can't, for the life of me, make sense of how else his argument here is supposed to work. 

We need justice. 

We need accountability. 

And we need it now. 

We need to #FireKnepper.