Imagine you’re a parent. Your child was hurt by police, who tased him in the legs, sending powerful and debilitating electric shocks through his body. You speak out and file an excessive force complaint with the police department. Then you receive an email from the city attorney with intimidating language about how you should “remain cautious” about publicly criticizing police for hurting your child.
That is happening to Bridgeport Councilwoman Karen Jackson right now.
Earlier this summer, Bridgeport police tased Councilwoman Jackson’s 15-year-old son. He had been with a group of teenagers who ran and hid when police approached them (as even some courts have recognized, Black boys and men can have legitimate reasons for running to avoid an encounter with police). When police caught up to him, they tased him in the legs.
There is little other public information about what happened. The Bridgeport Police Department does not yet have functioning body cameras. It has also been breaking state law by failing to collect and report information about how its employees use tasers, so we have no way of knowing how many people, including children, have been tased by Bridgeport employees.
People in Connecticut have a legal right to file a complaint with a police department when they feel they have been wronged by one of its employees, and Councilwoman Jackson availed herself of that right. She filed an excessive force complaint and spoke with a reporter about it.
The next day, Bridgeport city attorney Mark Anastasi sent her an email. In it, he revealed how city officials can be complicit in shielding police from the public scrutiny we expect of government servants in a democracy. In an email full of language that many might recognize as gaslighting and intimidation, the city’s attorney makes claims about hypothetical “unintended consequences” of the city councilwoman’s decision to speak out against police hurting her son.
He ends with a veiled threat: “you should remain cautious that your public criticism of the police performance in this incident [police tasing her son] can in no way be misinterpreted as an attempt to use your official position for personal gain, which would be a violation of the City’s Code of Ethics.”
Councilwoman Jackson is elected by the people of Bridgeport. Her job is to serve the people of Bridgeport. She not only has a right to question how public employees are treating her constituents – she has a responsibility to do so. And she absolutely has a right and responsibility to criticize police when they fail.
Holding police accountable to the people they are supposed to serve makes people safer, and there cannot be police accountability without members of the public speaking up and taking action when police do the wrong thing. In this spirit, local groups like Bridgeport Generation Now and Justice for Jayson have been working hard to try to stop police violence and create accountability and transparency.
No parent, like Councilwoman Jackson, should have to experience police hurting their child. No parents, like Jayson Negron’s, should have their child killed by police. And no parent who speaks out against police violence, including and especially an elected official with a responsibility to serve their constituents, should be silenced by the government.
We all have something to gain when police are held accountable to the people they are supposed to serve.