Lancaster George Floyd Protest Sunday May 31

Protesters kneel and raise a fist at the request of Lancaster City Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El near the Lancaster Bureau of Police station in Lancaster city Sunday, May 31.

Lancaster City Council on Tuesday outlined a plan it hopes will help build trust between the public and the police force.

The two-part plan, announced in a virtual town hall, will create a commission made up entirely of people of color to hold city departments accountable and will also provide a public report on demographic breakdown of police actions.

The report, which will be made public by Lancaster city police, will include the demographic information on in-person and traffic stops, all civilian complaints and all reports of disciplinary actions that have arisen due to use of force by officers. The report will become available in September, Councilman Xavier Garcia-Molina said. 

The announcements, which were made during a virtual town hall broadcast on Facebook and YouTube, came after four days of protests in Lancaster city in response to police brutality, and more specifically, the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis at the end of May. The protests were part of a series of rallies nationwide in the wake of Floyd's death.

The council created the City Council Commission of Black and Brown Affairs as a way to increase accountability for the city's administration and police department. 

“This movement is led by you,” Garcia-Molina said to the town-hall viewers. “It is time that you have a seat at the table with actual decision-making power.” 

The commission will be independent of the city administration and the police force, the councilpersons said, and will be made up of people of color who are residents of Lancaster city. Members can be of any age, the council members said. 

After the town hall, Councilwoman Amanda Bakay told an LNP | LancasterOnline reporter that the council members were hoping to kick off the commission as soon as possible. 

Lancaster's NAACP has been pushing for a police citizens review board for years, Chapter President Blanding Watson said. The board was first suggested in July 2018 in response to the tasing of an unarmed man by Lancaster city police. 

The review board was shot down in 2019. Mayor Danene Sorace said that without subpoena power, a review board would be "largely symbolic" and could fracture the relationship between police and the community, LNP | LancasterOnline reported. 

“I don’t think that it will accomplish the goals that we want,” she said in a February 2019 city council meeting.

Former councilman John Graupera added that the board would create complexity. 

Sorace said she would revisit the idea of a review board after she saw how the changes within the Lancaster city police department played out, LNP | LancasterOnline reported. 

Councilwoman Bakay said the commission is planned to be organized shortly -- in "not weeks, but days," Bakay said. 

After the council members made their announcements of the council’s plans, protesters — still advocating within the city — provided a list of demands over the phone. The council members also provided other viewers a chance to call in, but gave priority to the protesters who were "out there, raising their voice, expressing their anger and frustration in our system," Garcia-Molina said. 

Several of the protesters demanded funds for the Lancaster city police department be reallocated. 

One woman suggested providing some of the police department funding to community programs for children. Garcia-Molina said the council recently had conversations about how neighborhood crime prevention funds are being used.

"We need to look at how our dollars are being spent so we can build each other up with the money that we pay with our tax dollars," Garcia-Molina said. 

Protesters also demanded more accountability for police officers. 

One person suggested putting all police body cam footage in a public database so the public has access. Another suggested creating a review board for police complaints. 

The protesters had some critiques for the city council, as well. Several people mentioned the need to create more accessible council meetings and resources. 

City council meetings should be rescheduled to a time that would suit single parents or parents without childcare, one person suggested. 

Creating resources that are easily shared on social media with information about how to engage with the city government was suggested by another person. 

At the suggestion of one of the protesters, Garcia-Molina and Bakay joined the protesters on Chestnut St. after the virtual town hall. 

While at the protest, Bakay said, "This was a first step. We are committed to the long run."

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