At their weekly Sunday rally, leaders of the Unbroken Promise Initiative (UPI) presented a second letter they are sending to the Ithaca Police Department demanding accountability, defunding and a reformative overhaul of the department's militarization.
UPI founder Jordan Clemons and Kate Leboff, who is also deeply involved with the initiative, both addressed the gathered crowd, many of whom have been coming out each week for the last seven weeks to protest racist police violence, sparked in late May when nationwide protests broke out over the Minneapolis Police Department's killing of George Floyd. The crowd then took their weekly march, pausing outside of Ithaca Police Department headquarters and in the pedestrian walkway between Restaurant Row on Aurora Street before returning to the Commons.
Leboff read both the letter that the initiative sent to IPD and a new, second letter that the group will be sending because they have waited two weeks since sending the first and have not received a reply. The first letter is primarily a list of seven demands from the group aimed at local law enforcement, City Hall, the Tompkins County District Attorney's office and Common Council, including a slew of specific allegations against local police officers of racist conduct, inappropriate sexual relationships, wage theft, misconduct during legal proceedings and more. It asks for the disassembly of IPD's SWAT team, a review of the Nagee Green case (over allegations that a police officer's prior perjury was not disclosed to the defense team), defunding of IPD, weeding out corrupt officers and more.
Having seen no action on the demands in the first letter, and not hearing back from IPD at all, the group decided it was time to push forth with more demands and more pushes for accountability.
"We the people of Ithaca are outraged," Leboff read from the letter. "The leader of our police department, mayor, and Common Council have not listened to and have ignored our concerns and demands in regards to the Ithaca Police Department. Our leaders have taken no action to make our community safer from police corruption, have done nothing to help the citizens of our community feel safer and have played deceptive games while forgetting they serve us and work for us."
The letter continued that the police should rid themselves of long gun weaponry like AR-15s (the group deems them "weapons of war" and argues that they are unnecessary in Ithaca and that the danger they bring outweighs any benefit they might create), as well as pursuing one of UPI's foundational requests, which is that IPD dismantle its SWAT team as part of a larger demilitarization reform. Most specifically, Leboff said the group wants the SWAT team's equipped truck to be repurposed into something with purely peaceful, community-beneficial intent.
"We demand you turn your SWAT vehicle into a mobile vehicle for the community, then it may be welcomed into our community and neighborhoods of color," Leboff quoted from the letter. "It could be made a mobile testing center for COVID-19, for free immunizations or healthcare, a mobile dentist clinic for our neighborhoods in need. Use it for the people, not against the people."
The letter concludes that Mayor Svante Myrick and Common Council are not acting fast enough to address the concerns of Ithacans who want to see the police demilitarized.
Sandwiched between the two letters was a rumination from Clemons on his upbringing and some of the difficult choices and situations he had to navigate because his family was facing severe poverty and his mom was struggling with an addiction to crack cocaine. The most poignant scenario described involved a teenaged Clemons, who had turned to drug dealing to support his family, fighting with his mother because she wanted to get drugs from him but he didn't want to fuel her addiction. Eventually, he ended up giving in after the altercation turned physical. The situation led him to have a breakdown. He told the story to illustrate that the leaders of the movement are willing to be honest about their own pasts and actions, no matter how uncomfortable they are, and that local law enforcement and those in power should be as well. If police officers are honest with themselves and reflect on the system they are a part of, Clemons said, they should be ready to resign their positions as officers.
"It's about being truthful. You're in a position where you've probably done things that have lost the trust of the people that you serve," Clemons said. "As a result, we don't think you are fit to be in the position that you are in. Please step down. [...] F*ck your reform, the system needs to go. If it's going to continue to exist, it continues on our terms."
Clemons ended his remarks with another call for local elected officials to pay attention to the demands of his group and others that are calling for reform, reminding them that if they do not, the ultimate power to remove them rests with voters.
"Do the right thing now or pay the price at the polls soon," Clemons said, quoting the second letter's final line.