Harry Potter and the Citizen Review Board

Urban CNY

— From YouTube to the local news, we’ve been shown images of a man being led to a Syracuse police car as a neighbor’s cell phone camera recorded his head being slammed into the window of an awaiting patrol car. After the incident the subject of the video was shown with a black eye. He admitted to “mouthing off” at the officer but nothing to warrant a head-slamming.

Immediately there were press releases and statements condemning the behavior of the officer and ordering an investigation. But what if there were no video, no YouTube? It would have been one citizen’s word against the institution of the police.

This is an ongoing situation involving citizen review or, as Yogi Barra, once said, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

This video is an example of absolute power used against the powerless. This city has said that it wants citizen review, but if such a board has no real power, we need a YouTube video to prove an officer abused their position of authority.

Every mayor since the inception of the law establishing this board has played kick-the-can with the issue of an effective board with real powers. The current Citizen Review Board is like the Harry Potter movie franchise without a magic wand: powerless.

We’ve been wrestling with the concept of citizen review for more than a decade and we’re still in the same position, stuck with a toothless, meaningless review board that was gutted by the same people who turned around and questioned its mission and effectiveness. There is no question now.

We have a mayor who ran on a platform that included “social justice.” Perhaps it’s time to say we’ve seen the social on YouTube, now where is the justice?

Our right to live in a free society is threatened whenever the police are allowed to use their “paramilitary force” to pummel a person with no apparent cause. Mouthing off at a police officer is a stupid thing to do but it does not warrant a beating.

If a person is beaten and there is no YouTube record of the event, did the incident happen? Would city officials be Southern-style, Pralines angry, “Ma-goodness, I-declare-this-behavior-is-not acceptable,” if it was not broadcast to the world?

If Chief Fowler, Mayor Miner and the Syracuse Common Council are really “appalled” at this video display of an officer’s bad behavior, they’ll stop kicking the can of an establishing an effective Citizen Review Board and be true to upholding the Constitution of the United States by protecting the citizens, even if it’s from the police.

Ken Jackson is the editor of Urban CNY and a weekly columnist for The Eagle. Reach him at kjackson@urbancny.com.

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