Black Lives Matter DC on Peter Newsham’s departure, examining culture of policing

Following the news that D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham accepted an offer to lead the Police Department in Prince William County, Virginia, Black Lives Matter DC said it would be a “huge disservice” to exclude the impact of the culture of policing when choosing a new chief.

One of Black Lives Matter DC’s core organizers, April Goggans, said that for those advocating for a Black chief or for more Black officers, data shows that none of those things have more impact on police work than its culture.

“The culture of policing has … more weight,” Goggans said. “It influences the way in which police and police departments and chiefs do their job, more so than who their individual identities are.”

It would be a disservice to only talk about how the new chief interacts with racism, she said, without that person being keenly aware of how it is operationalized in officers’ daily work.

“We live in a society that is … inherently white supremacist, in that … there has been and always will be a difference in the way that folks of color — especially Black people — are seen, treated, legislated about, talked about, targeted,” Goggans said.

“… We know what happens when people are given authority, and if they’re not only just given authority, but protected by other authority.”

Goggans said the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser need to do a better job of understanding how much of this is just inherent in policing when they make decisions in choosing Newsham’s replacement.

At the very minimum, Goggans said, the council and Bowser should “respect D.C. residents enough to pick a chief that at least follows the law.”

Glad to see Newsham go

Goggans found out Newsham was leaving when someone took a picture of a tweet and sent it to her.

“I was super excited because I am glad to see him go. But it wasn’t surprising,” she said.

After nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, Goggans said she heard talks that he may leave.

“I also know that Mayor Bowser wasn’t going to take the fall for any of the police stuff that’s happened this year, or any of [Newsham’s] handling of any of the protests either,” Goggans said.

Before Newsham was confirmed in 2017, Black Lives Matter DC and the Never Newsham action group campaigned against his confirmation, expressing concern about his record on First Amendment activities.

“We were able to say that we knew that would happen again, that there would be mass arrests … and that there would just be a criminalization of dissent,” Goggans said.

Goggans cited the 2002 World Bank protest arrests at Pershing Park and the protests by the group DisruptJ20, which had planned to block the 2017 inauguration.

Despite opposition to his confirmation, he was confirmed 12-1, with Council member David Grosso casting the only nay vote.

Grosso called for Newsham’s removal in July, saying Newsham has a pattern of unfairly cracking down on protesters, not striving to find ways to better serve the Black community and lashing out at council members when something goes wrong for him.

Grosso’s call for Newsham’s removal came after the American Civil Liberties Union accused D.C. police of being involved in the June 1 chemical-aided clearing of protesters at Lafayette Square ahead of President Donald Trump’s photo op outside St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Newsham denied that his officers were involved in supporting the action against protesters ahead of Trump’s walk through the square.

Goggans hopes that the next chief will be more serious about following the laws that are already there, specifically about data and reporting.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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