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Friday marks one year since Jeremy McDole – a 28-year-old wheelchair bound African-American man – was shot and killed by four Wilmington police officers.
The state Department of Justice decided against charging any of the officers involved, but was highly critical of how one of them handled the situation and Wilmington Police training methods.
Delaware’s ACLU Executive Director Kathleen MacRae would like to see sweeping changes. She’s calling for all recommendations from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing – including de-escalation training – to be implemented across state police agencies.
“Police have to understand when words are more important than guns. When they need to ask questions and not just bark orders,” MacRae said. “They need to set back and take cover and assess, maybe call in folks that are trained in dealing with people with mental health issues.”
But MacRae says what we’ve seen is much smaller steps.
In June, a council made up of police lobbying groups and state officials issued a set of non-binding guidelines about the use of body cameras for law enforcement officers in Delaware already using them.
The guidelines say body cameras should be activated when an arrest or use of force is likely, but there’s no enforcement mechanism.
MacRae is also waiting to hear from the Police Advisory Council created by Wilmington mayor Dennis Williams. She believes civilian oversight is critical, allowing citizens the opportunity to hold officers accountable.
The Wilmington Police Department said in August a review of its use of force policy was underway. On Thursday, they referred questions about use of force to the city solicitor because of its connection to the McDole family’s lawsuit against city. The city solicitor was unavailable for comment.
MacRae said there should be more transparency with policies like use of force.
“Currently, it’s our experience with most police departments in the state that they do not share that information with the public,” MacRae said.
Delaware Public Media filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Wilmington Police Department earlier this year to get a copy of the policy, but it’s not considered a public record under state law.
Wilmington City Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey Walker says that cell phone videos could spur louder calls for accountability. The McDole shooting was captured on a cell phone, and the man who recorded it claimed in a court brief submitted Monday that he wasn’t interviewed by police. Dorsey Walker says that video and others from incidents elsewhere across the country highlight what she sees as racially motivated issues involving police abuse of force.
She contends when officers in cases like McDole’s don’t get prosecuted, it sends a message to the community that the lives of black men don’t matter.
“So we have to look at the source of it, deal with the root of the problem. And we can’t keep pushing it under the rug and saying, well, we’re over it, don’t talk about race,” Dorsey Walker said. “When you don’t talk about an issue and you don’t address it the situation gets worse. We have to do better as a state, and we have to do better by our men of color. But we also need to be mindful that we need to treat law enforcement with respect.”
Dorsey Walker, who grew up with McDole’s mother Phyllis McDole, says she hopes more officers will truly engage in “community policing,” – walking the streets and getting to know young men like Jeremy “Bam Bam” McDole.