After directing a chant from protesters at the Statesboro Police Department headquarters June 6 beseeching Police Chief Mike Broadhead to “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly,” protest spokesman Francys Johnson directed a list of demands to Mayor Jonathan McCollar.
The march to the police station followed last Saturday’s rally of more than 400 protestors at the Bulloch County Courthouse. Around half of the Courthouse Square demonstrators made the march.
"Come on up, Mr. Mayor, we elected you to set this straight," Johnson said.
Although the protest had other organizers, including high school to college-age youth, Johnson, local attorney and minister and former NAACP state president, had also been the first of many speakers at the courthouse.
At the police station, after further “Black Lives Matter!” chants, he first called for "a full review of the use of force by this department," and "a full review of the Crime Suppression Team that was disbanded.”
He also requested protocols that would “require police officers to do what lawyers are required to do, CPAs are required to do, and every other profession is required to do, self-regulate."
More specifically, Johnson called for making police officers mandated reporters of abuses by other law enforcement officers, just as teachers and other school employees are mandated reporters of suspected child abuse.
"The policy needs to be changed that if an officer observes an unreasonable use of force or malfeasance in the performance of their duties, they have the same duty that a teacher has, a duty to report, a mandatory duty to report," he said.
Johnson also called for an end to "broken window policies" and for local law enforcement agencies "to implement what I know our chief believes in, which is community-based policing.”
"He stops by my office just to say, 'Hey,' to check in, and he does it for other people as well," Johnson continued, remaining complimentary of Broadhead's leadership.
"We need to make sure that his leadership permeates from the top to the bottom and serve the good old boys notice, this is not the softly Southern city anymore, this is a city that is determined it will soar above its history, above its racist lynching – racist lynching, racist lynching! – history, it will soar to a newer day,” Johnson preached.
“Broken windows” was a reference to a theory of policing, which Mayor McCollar also says is outmoded, in which stepped-up arrests for minor crimes are supposed to deter major ones. The theory is often associated with “stop and frisk” and “zero tolerance” enforcement of offenses such as drug possession.
The Crime Suppression Team, a joint task force involving Statesboro police and the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, was disbanded soon after Sheriff Noel Brown took office in 2017.
‘8 Can’t Wait’
Johnson called for the city to implement all eight of Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” policies, adding "you can do that from the City Council" and that the city should "urge the County Commission to do the same," and "don't wait for the White House ... don't wait for Republican or Democrat to get their act together," but "do it now, Mr. Mayor."
The “8 Can’t Wait” measures, numbered here but not ranked, are to 1) ban the use of chokeholds and strangleholds by police; 2) require officers to de-escalate situations whenever possible; 3) require a verbal warning before shooting or other use of deadly force; 4) require officers to exhaust all other alternatives before resorting to deadly force; 5) require officers to intervene to stop excessive use of force and report such incidents immediately to a supervisor; 6) ban shooting at moving vehicles; 7) establish a use-of-force continuum restricting more severe types of force to extreme situations; and 8) require comprehensive reporting by officers each time they use force or threaten its use, including pointing a gun at anyone.
Johnson asked McCollar “to commit, within seven days, to establishing a committee” of City Council members, citizens and police to look at the “8 Can't Wait" initiatives and "see which ones we can adopt and which ones we have already adopted, and we can track our measure of progress."
"Your mayor don't have to be instructed to do that, your mayor is already doing that,” McCollar replied.
Noting that the Municipal Court building and probation office were across the street, Johnson added a request that the city end the use of a contracted, private probation company.
“Many cities have already ended private probation,” he said.
Johnson was not asking that this be done in a way that would violate contractual obligations, he added.
“But in the next feasible place, we need to get away from private probation and cash-money bail,” Johnson said, to more cheers from the protestors.
"Again, you don't have to tell your mayor to do this ...,” McCollar said, also to cheers. “Your mayor stands for comprehensive criminal justice reform.”
Broadhead and McCollar eventually "took a knee," kneeling with protesters on West Grady Street in front of the police station.
“I’m just really glad that people were able to gather and have a peaceful rally and get their voices heard, and I just want to assure people that our police department hears them and the nation’s police officers hear them,” Broadhead said just after the rally.
The “8 Can’t Wait” reforms are all policies Statesboro police already follow, he said.
“Actually we already use all eight of those, they’re all integrated into our policy and our training, so we’re well ahead of that curve,” Broadhead said.
He said that police generally across the country have been training not to use chokeholds for two decades and have known about positional asphyxia for longer. Broadhead called it “shameful” that officers such as those involved in George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis did not recognize this. He had also said this in a written public statement the week of Floyd’s death.
As of Friday, McCollar had not appointed a community committee to consider the demands. But he already had city staff members, including Broadhead and City Manager Charles Penny, and in the case of ending of private probation, City Attorney Cain Smith, looking into these moves.
“We went ahead and got started on that early on,” McCollar said Friday. “So, at this point there’s no need to appoint a committee because the staff is already looking at it, and what we’re looking to do is after we kind of get a good look at it, determine what our next steps may be, and a committee after that point is a possibility.”
During some council meetings in 2019, McCollar, who is now in his third year as Statesboro’s mayor and is the first African American to hold the office, publicly questioned the use of private probation.
“Many of the things that they’re asking for we’re already doing, so that’s a major plus for us,” he said Friday.
Broadhead already issues an annual review of use-of-force report, and McCollar said the city will issue a release next week providing links to the latest report.
He said he will call for a review of past Crime Suppression Team activities.
Incidentally, Campaign Zero is an organization whose agenda includes far more radical goals than the “8 Can’t Wait” reforms. Even its 8cantwait.org webpage now includes descriptions of “defunding” and “abolitionist” approaches to reduce the size of police forces and extent of policing. But only the original “8 Can’t Wait” steps were requested locally.