Civic Engagement

Oglethorpe student leaders pen letter to Mayor, Atlanta PD calling for ‘equity and justice’

Two Oglethorpe students, David Swillum ’21 and Milana ‘Mimi’ Woods ’21, have collaborated with students at other metro Atlanta universities to author a letter to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Atlanta Police Department in light of national scrutiny of police tactics.

The letter outlines demands to increase accountability for police officers, re-allocate funding to community-oriented programs and implement training courses for high school students. Though it is addressed specifically to Mayor Bottoms and the Atlanta PD, Swillum notes that the letter has already begun circulating to other government entities — including Mayor Bottoms’ police reform task force and the Fulton County Solicitor General — and is meant to also be distributed to local governments, surrounding universities and the Atlanta community as a whole.

Swillum and Woods are co-presidents of the Oglethorpe chapter of the Collegiate 100, a program created by the 100 Black Men of Atlanta to provide internships and advisement to rising juniors and seniors. It was through this network that the two students were able to coordinate this effort. The letter is co-authored and signed by the Collegiate 100 presidents at Clark Atlanta University, Georgia State University, and Morehouse College.

The first demand outlines a “Duty to Intervene” law, which would require officers to halt any use of excessive force by fellow officers. As of June 16, the Atlanta-adjacent DeKalb County Police Department has adopted a similar policy which requires officers to intervene when a colleague is “using force that is clearly beyond that which is objectively reasonable under the circumstances.” It also requires them to log the incident by reporting to a supervisor.

The second demand calls for yearly review of officer conduct. The authors note that Derek Chauvin, one of the officers involved in the death of George Floyd, had accrued at least 18 misconduct complaints and two letters of reprimand at the time of Floyd’s death. Under the proposed “Yearly Accountability System,” officers would be “subject to dismissal based on the severity/frequency of complaints,” and any complaint files should be reviewed in the instance of re-certification.

The third demand seeks to expand education around citizen-police interaction, specifically at traffic stops. It was during a routine traffic stop that Philando Castile was shot and killed while reaching for his wallet to display his license. A standardized training course during Driver’s Ed, the authors argue, would help to familiarize new motorists with expectations and conduct during traffic stops.

At the time that the letter was drafted, Georgia was one of four states yet to adopt a “Hate Crime Law” — legislation meant to classify and condemn acts of violence against minority groups. The fourth demand calls for the implementation — and enforcement — of such a law. As of June 26, Gov. Brian Kemp has signed a law that imposes additional criminal sentencing for “hate” crimes intentionally based on race, sex, sexual orientation, color, religion, national origin, mental disability, or physical disability.

The final demand calls for increased funding to the Office of Community Development and the Office of The Public Defender. According to Atlanta’s official budget for the 2021 fiscal year, the Office of Community Development was allotted just $313,400 and the Office of The Public Defender was allotted $3,898,182, while the Atlanta Police Department was allotted $217,565,960 — a 5.90% increase from the previous year.

“As believers in true equality, inclusion, and core values, it is on every single one of us to step up and fight for what’s right.”

About the letter, Swillum and Woods say, in a joint statement: “For decades and centuries we have created a world of darkness where people are divided stemming from hate, racism, and overall ignorance. As believers in true equality, inclusion, and core values, it is on every single one of us to step up and fight for what’s right.”

Both students hope to circulate the letter as widely as possible to inspire action from the government in response to protests.

Read the full letter here.

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