Monday, March 1, 2021

Civil Rights Attorney Charles Coleman Jr. on the History of Policing People of Color / Watch

Charles Coleman - bow tie
Charles F. Coleman / Photo: courtesy of Rolling Out

*Civil Rights Attorney Charles F. Coleman has been seen on CNN discussing a variety of topics including Affirmative Action, white supremacy, police shootings, and a variety of topics that headline world and national news.

Recently, Attorney Coleman had a Zoom conversation with EURweb to discuss some of the prevailing topics related to race, social justice, and reform that have been headlining national news for several weeks.

A former prosecutor, Attorney Coleman worked in Brooklyn, the largest borough in New York City, and the largest prosecutor’s office in the city. Coleman’s transition to Civil Rights litigation happened in part because he saw “there is a strong need for responsible, ethical prosecutors of color and black prosecutors.” Coleman also realized that “the criminal justice system was politicized in a way that [he] just could no longer take.” Other influences on his decision were his passion around social justice issues and his natural inclination toward Civil Rights. Coleman says that while other young people idolized super heroes, the Civil Rights leaders were his super heroes.

Nationwide most major cities have seen protests calling for police reform, including defunding. Attorney Coleman shed light on the local and national approaches to police reform saying that reform starts at the local level where it has the most impact.

Asked about the outcry for police defunding, Coleman said: “Once the average person is aware…of how much an actual municipality’s budget is spent on police or dedicated to police, I find that people are usually shocked because they didn’t know.”

At that point people have to look at their communities and decide what they want their communities to look like and then “reimagine” policing within the community.

Communities are different and policing has to be tailored for the community culture and demographics.

“The conversation about social justice and Civil Rights in America requires black people become more educated about our own history. It is absolutely inherent upon us to have a conversation that prioritizes facts over feelings.”

Coleman says that asking for defunding police means that “you can’t sort of say I want the state to have a hands off approach when it comes to me, my family, and my community, and then you also have a hands off approach.”  He says that defunding police means communities have to assume more responsibility.

Having “more of a say in terms of how your communities run and how they’re functioning and how they’re policed, well then now you have to take more responsibility in terms of actualizing and making that happen.”

READ THIS: Kenosha Police Chief Awarded ‘Donkey of the Day’ for Basically Defending Killer of Protestors

Another function in reform is understanding the history of policing.

Fundamentally, people have viewed policing as necessary for stopping or preventing crime, but Attorney Coleman raises the point “From a larger standpoint, I think the question becomes do you understand why crime occurs?”

Lack of resources, perceived lack of resources, opportunities or lack thereof are factors that influence crime within communities. Attorney Coleman points out that if people have “rewarding jobs, if they are happy about where they live, if they feel like they can provide for their families” they are less likely to be embedded in criminal activity.

He poses the question “Do black lives matter enough for us to invest in communities where black lives are?” The question underscores his belief that funds could be used in communities so that mental health units like the EDP (Emotionally Disturbed Persons unit) in New York are dispatched rather than police, decreasing the arrests and state supervision of people who are in mental crisis. He also mentions Chicago as an example where the correlation of black male unemployment and crime reflect how marginalizing a group creates a need for them to feel they are seen and heard.

Attorney Coleman says that on a national level, Washington “can set the tone for what the national discussion is. They have a lot of input and a lot of weight. If they say we need to think about policing in a different way…” Still, the majority of impact will come from the local elected officials.

One of the most impactful ways to approach police reform is by being honest. Coleman says that black people have a “painful history” when it comes to the history of policing in America.

“Police in America started with the slave trades. It was literally about being able to support slave owners who had property in the form of human chattel that had been stolen, or taken, or run away, and have that property returned to them. And, it gave people that responsibility and that obligation to sort of return lost ‘property.’ It gave them that authority.”

“And in terms of our history in America, culturally that has always sort of been the role of police. It has been to make sure that as it relates to our community that we stay in line where we’re supposed to be.”

That historically has translated in black communities that black people must stay in line or in place. Coleman says you can’t take something like policing that has always been one thing and then say that it has become something else. He says reforming policing must include conversation that is honest and clear about what it was historically so that redefining it moves away from that in the future.

Asked how do people begin the process of police reform, Coleman says the current election cycle presents the perfect time and opportunity for people to start asking elected officials for what they want in their communities.

“For the average citizen who wants to sort of know where to start, look right in your back yard at your elected officials and start asking them questions, particularly because now they’re coming around, they’re asking for your vote.”

Coleman is well versed on the calls for police reform, still he identifies some other areas that are vital for Civil Rights.

“In terms of our community, I think the biggest issue that we have to contend with is generational wealth gaps and economics.”

“Economics is a significant leveler of playing fields because economics is the one ticket, if you will, that enables people to circumvent structural racism.”

Coleman says that “On average, white families have an average median wealth value…of almost 3 ½ times that of black families.”

“Economics and ensuring that we figure out a way to create economic opportunity…is of critical import because that’s the fastest way for us to achieve equality and ultimately liberate ourselves.”

Coleman explains that might include actions that require people to understand the difference between being equal or fair.

In addition to economics Coleman lists education, criminal justice reform—not just a “myopic” approach of police reform, and racism which he defines as a “public health issue because of the myriad ways it impacts black Americans” as areas that Civil Rights gains need to be made.

Attorney Coleman says “The work that I do is work that I believe I was called to do, and it is indeed a labor of love so I am blessed and thankful to be walking in my purpose in that regard because at the end of the day, my people are my passion.”

Attorney Coleman has offered to continue dialogue with EUR on topics that readers want more insight on. He can also be found on Facebook and LinkedIn at Charles F. Coleman, Jr. as well as his website

J Jermayne (08-20a)
J. Jermayne

Jermayne (@JJermayne Writes) is the author of 6 published books; 3 are sports themed. Jermayne freelance writes and travels to cover sports, entertainment and cultural events. 



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