On the 30th of May, the ACLU hosted the #ReformDCJustice candidate’s forum for DC Council Chair and at-large candidates. Two at-large candidates seeking to unseat Anita Bonds were present, Anita Bonds was a no-show. The ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and No Justice No Pride would have been a tough audience for a councilmember known to answer to big buisness and gentrifiers, and who attended Trump’s inauguration. Issues from Stop and Frisk to sex work to Amazon’s efforts to invade DC came up during the forum.
During the forum it came up that DC is planning to build a new jail, and that the project will probably be a “public-private partnership.” That implies the danger that a new private or partially privatized jail will open in DC. While the old DC Jail is considered to be nearly uninhabitable, the danger is that a new jail will be a larger jail, and that a larger jail will mean more arrests and more people held pending trial. That is especially likely if there is a contract to guarantee a percentage of cells filled to a private contractor, as ICE is known to do. Not one of the candidates would admit to supporting private prisons and jails, but nobody called for stopping the project as a way of limiting arrests and holds either. There were calls for building a new Federal prison close to DC for DC prisoners, but no calls from any candidate for demolishing an equal amount of prison capacity elsewhere to prevent more people from being sentenced to prison.
Speaking of ICE, all candidates seemed to agree that ICE and related Federal agencies need to be entirely prevented from having any access whatsoever to DC records that could indicate immigration status. The issue of taking indications of status off DC driver’s licenses came up, with the more serious progressive candidates being the ones not to make excuses about the Real ID Act. DC could get around the Real ID Act by making all DC driver’s licenses not proof of citizenship and not valid to fly or entire Federal buildings, then issuing a second ID to those who actually need to enter Federal buildings or fly and have the documentation required for that kind of ID. Nobody mentioned that particular workaround, however.
In the Council Chair race portion fo the forum,Ed Laziere took on incumbent Phil Mendelson on similar issues. Ed Laziere seemed to take the more progressive positions, but it seemed that at least when it comes to talk Phil Mendelson tried to compete for being progressive enough for this audience. Both candidates said they agreed with the bill now before the DC Council to decriminalize nonpayment of Metrorail and bus fares, an issue that now leads to jail terms and often violent arrests. The issue of police shootings drew excuses from Phil Mendelson about DC being one of the first jurisidictions to equip police with body cameras. Of course, when Terrence Sterling was shot the camera was turned off or otherwise unavailable until after the shooting. Body cameras in general have not been effective in stopping cops from shooting and killing Black and Brown people for trifling offenses.
In the At-Large race, Anita Bond’s challengers Marcus Goodwin and Jeremiah Lowery staked out similar positions on a variety of issues relating to racist police abuses of DC residents, but Jeremiah Lowery in most cases took the stronger stand against MPD and racist killer cops. He also condemned his opponents for taking money from big donors, and twice condemned Amazon’s efforts to set their hooks into DC even though the moderator and audience had not raised that question.
On the question of sex work and the city’s current practice of sending sex workers to jail, both candidates condemned existing law and police behavior, but again it was Jeremiah Lowery who sounded more trustworthy on this issue, more committed to siding with sex workers trying to afford to eat over “young urban professionals” trying to harvest a little more property value by ensuring their block is free of all signs of sex workers. Anita Bonds was not present to address the issue of police and sex work, but is known to have introduced a bill to increase the number of police in the city. The bill to legalize sex work the is Reducing Criminalization to Promote Public Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2017, and its sponsors are Councilmember David Grosso and Robert C. White Jr. Phil Mendelson (running for DC Council Chair) is known to oppose this bill.