By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
No hour is ever eternity but it has its right to weep. – Zora Neale Hurston
Last week was a trying hour for our community. We mournfully watched people we have known for decades be placed in handcuffs and charged with serious breaches of public trust. Sadly, the world watched along with us.
As it relates to the specific cases of the four accused black Toledo City Councilpersons, we must let justice be done. We, however, should not pre-judge anyone based on “allegations.” Yet, as Zora Neale Hurston once said, “There is no single face in nature, because every eye that looks upon it, sees it from its own angle. So, every [person’s] spice-box seasons his or her food.”
It is also true that “An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done ‘heard’ about you just what they hope done happened,” Hurston also declared, insightfully.
The truth is that haters are still gonna hate, and supporters will continue to support, depending on the spice box they bring with them to the table.
The important thing to remember is that we should allow “accusations” neither to define us nor divide us. Toledo is a good community with hard working people who, every day, perform thousands of silent acts of kindness.
I spoke with Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz to discuss how to address this and other challenging issues for our community. There are no easy answers.
Perryman: With a 40 percent increase in homicides in June, alleged corruption at city hall, and protests about police reform, how do these events speak to the need for change?
Mayor: I would say there are a lot of things happening in Toledo right now that aren’t positive, but there’s a lot of things happening in America that aren’t positive. Of all of the negative things that have impacted Toledo in 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic, the economic collapse that flowed from it, the unrest surrounding police brutality and I would even include what happened with these four councilmembers; I see all of those as things that have happened to us, not things that we have done. The moment chose us, and so the question is, what are we going to do about it? And I’m more focused on that.
Perryman: I think I hear you saying, is that we cannot let these incidents define us, but at the same time, they still highlight a need for change?
Mayor: What we have seen happening this year highlights the need for change in several fundamental areas. For instance, the debate over police reform or police-community relations was needed long before George Floyd was murdered. I will say that Toledo has already taken some positive steps in the right direction to bring about some change there. Whether it’s moving internal affairs out of police headquarters where it has been for 90 years or making our training available to the public, passing ordinances to codify the ban of chokeholds or to require that officers intervene if a fellow officer is engaged in the use of excessive force. There are already probably a dozen or so reforms that we have implemented. I’ve banned the use of camouflage. But, there’s a lot more to do. We formed the Police-Community Relations group last week to continue to push on issues, everything from revamping the citizen police review board to analyzing when and how things like tear gas and pepper spray can be used.
The other thing that is on my mind and everyone’s mind; is what happened with the four council members. I think that also exposes a need and an opportunity for change. Every citizen of this country is entitled to due process, entitled to a fair trial, entitled to offer a defense and the same is true for these four council members. That is a legal process and it’s one of the core values of the American system; however, city government works based on trust and whatever happens legally to these members of council, I do worry that there’s already been such a fundamental breach of trust. At some point these members of council are going to need to resign. It’s a shame that it took this tragic event to bring about this kind of change on city council, but I think we can be better in the long run.
Perryman: Specifically, what changes on the city council would this lead to other than providing new faces? And why is that good?
Mayor: I am one who believes that new energy and new ideas are always good. That’s not a commentary on any one member of council or any elected official, but generally speaking I think democracy works better when new ideas and new energy can be introduced into the process. It also must be said that whenever a breach of trust has taken place, that good government just can’t occur.
It’s good because, for rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, we are dealing with a situation now where the citizens do not trust city council. So, the mere act of replacing those members who have lost the public trust with those who can have the public trust, that act in it of itself is a positive thing, at least in my opinion it is.
Perryman: Well, I look at those four incidents not collectively, but individually, and I see each one as being different and unique according to the accused person. There is also, in my opinion, a difference between unwittingly wandering and deliberately violating ethical boundaries. So how do we go about restoring integrity to city council, the police department, and all other positions of trust?
Mayor: Well, I think that in both cases, policy changes could be part of what is needed. Certainly, when it comes to the police department, I do think despite everything that we’ve already done, I do believe that more policy changes are needed. I think more accountability and transparency are required, and we’re moving that direction. So, I think policy changes are always a part of what has to happen when trust has been violated, whether it’s the police department or in city council. But the other change that is needed when trust is broken is that sometimes you just need new faces, new ideas and new energy. I think that is what is going to happen on city council, relatively soon.
Perryman: And, connecting the circle ….
Mayor: I think that is also what needs to happen in the police department. I don’t necessarily think that we need change at the top, perhaps we will at some point, but I believe that we need change throughout the organization.
Perryman: Please elaborate.
Mayor: Specifically, we need more police officers who reflect the diversity of the community, and we need more diverse officers in command positions and that’s why we’ve worked so hard in my first two years to bring in diverse police classes, and in fact, they have been the most diverse both in terms of raw numbers and since the early 1980s. We have to continue that work because change requires change in policies and means changing some people from time to time. Our police department needs more diversity, and that’s a part of the process too. So, I think they are linked in that way.
Perryman: Is the current chief able to attract racially-diverse candidates and promote diverse employees in the department?
Mayor: Well, I think he is.
Perryman: Will you use those criteria as a measure of accountability and evaluation of his job performance?
Mayor: I would answer yes to both questions. I think he is capable of it, and I will use that as a measure of accountability as we go forward. I can only judge him by his performance based on while I’ve been mayor, I can’t speak to what kind of chief he was before I arrived or what kind of police officer he was even before that. In the two and a half years we have worked together, the Toledo Police Department’s diversity has improved in a way that it hasn’t in almost 40 years and to his credit, the police classes have been extraordinarily diverse. I think at best maybe I’ll give him a midterm grade, but he hasn’t taken the final exam yet. I’m using analogies. But we’ve got more to do. We need to continue to build diverse classes and to reshape the police department, so it better reflects our community. I would say he’s capable of it, he’s shown some progress here on his grade card, but there’s more work to do before the final exam.
Perryman: Back to city council. Sometimes ethical boundaries are not clear about when or when not to participate in a given activity. How do we prevent unwitting boundary violations? Is there a role for mandated professional ethics education?
Mayor: Absolutely! I have been surprised that there’s not a requirement that city council receive that training. It’s one of the reasons I was encouraged to see Katie Moline recently introduce an ordinance that requires annual ethics training. I think there should be ongoing ethical training for all elected officials across the board, not just city council.
Perryman: You talked about needed change on city council? Is it your vision to keep council diverse?
Mayor: Yes, it 100 percent has to be. I have said the government’s power is derived from the consent of the governed. If we have a city council with one African American on it, but suddenly Dr. Cecelia Adams is the only black or brown face we have, that’s a really big problem and threatens our credibility as a public body. So, there’s no question that new members of council need to reflect the diversity of our community. I have no problem saying that. It’s an absolutely mandatory requirement.
Perryman: Finally, we see today, a new multicultural, multiracial coalition of “anti-racists,” which I’d like to see building more steam here in Toledo. For that movement to take root requires that we become aware of all of the inequalities. We’ve been talking about police reform, but that’s not the only issue. In the words of Michael Harriot, systematic racism is the “constitutionally enshrined, legally endorsed, and socially accepted system of economic, political, and mental subjugation of a race of people, whose remnants persist to this day.” Someone else has defined systemic racism as the oppression of a racial group through policies and practices. How does Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz lead an anti-racism movement from One Government Center to counter systemic racism?
Mayor: That’s a great question, and I’m so glad you brought that up. I would say number one, by talking about it, advocating about it, and secondly, by spending money to address it. Those are the two. 2020 has been a tough year for the United States of America. And, just about everything that has happened this year has exposed the historical injustices that people of color have faced in this country for decades.
So, while we’re continuing our work on policing, we are also going to invest ourselves in addressing the inequities in housing and healthcare and education and job training and a number of other systems that have been historically rigged against people of color. For instance, we plan to spend $55 million on a series of primarily housing-based programming that will make a difference. It is as much a part of the change that needs to happen as the reforms that we’re pushing the police department to make. It’s all linked, and that’s how we’re viewing it.
Perryman: Thank you.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org