Letter: End the blue wall of silence

Graphic by Lori Deaton

As a human being and an advocate for justice, I want us to never again be in a position where families and communities are shattered by illegal acts and unjustified excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. We must prevent irreparable harm. The health of our communities depends on it.

The North Carolina legislature should make it a crime for a police officer to fail to report another officer’s crimes — whether it be excessive use of force or another crime — to a neutral outside agency such as the District Attorney’s Office or the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.

North Carolina law already makes it mandatory to report child abuse. A person who knowingly or wantonly fails to report (child abuse) or prevents another person from making a report “is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor” (G.S. 7B-301(b)).

We know too well the harms of child abuse, and there’s a crime in North Carolina to ensure child abusers are reported. We see the irreparable harm police brutality causes its victims and communities. We need a similar criminal law to obligate police to report and prevent crimes by police.

Officers on-scene did nothing while [Minneapolis police officer Derek] Chauvin kneed George Floyd to death; their passivity is shocking. An officer’s failure to report a partner’s crimes should be a crime itself — to be criminally punished and require permanent forfeiture of an officer’s certification.

Too often, police crimes are reported only to police department “internal affairs” investigators and no one else. Functionally, the report is filed in a black box and is protected by personnel laws preventing disclosure and can later obstruct criminal prosecutions.

Proposal: It’s time lawmakers considered real police reform to put an end to the culture of the “Blue Wall of Silence.” Police and their lobbyists may not like it, but we must do all we can to ensure cases like the murder of George Floyd never happen again.

Enact a law requiring the police to report criminal acts perpetrated by other officers to an independent agency and make any failure to report those acts a crime.

— Todd Williams
Buncombe County District Attorney


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11 thoughts on “Letter: End the blue wall of silence

  1. Michael Hopping

    Thank you, Mr. Williams. This change would be a start. Totally independent and transparent investigation of police misconduct allegations would be another, as would media access to body cam footage and immediate sanctions imposed on officers whose cameras were turned off during incidents.

    But also, on a local level, we have now seen Chief Zack in action. He has repeatedly and miserably failed to lead his department in a manner appropriate to this city or occasion. Failure to anticipate protester movements or adequately plan to manage them nonviolently in advance. Tear gas. Destruction of ordinary medical supplies under specious cover of protecting us from hurled water bottles or bombs–were those bombs cleverly disguised as bandages??? Zack has shown us who he is and needs to be removed from any position to further destroy police-community good will built over the past fifteen years. SACK ZACK!

    • luther blissett

      “We regret destroying those supplies, we should have confiscated them” is contemptuous. Asheville may go through police chiefs like Spinal Tap went through drummers, but maybe the recruiting pool is a puddle and the city would do better appointing a school sports coach or a pastor to run APD.

      The organizers should invoice the city for the cost, and the city should reimburse them and deduct it from the policing budget. That’s even before the conversation begins on how best to defund APD of its paramilitary toys in the coming years.

      • Michael Hopping

        The Spinal Tap analogy is painfully apt. But Zack’s macho idea of policing is exactly the issue underlying the law enforcement culture that produces incidents of brutality and gratuitous aggression by its officers. He has to go. However, it isn’t enough to remove his like and individual perpetrators. Law enforcement culture has to change from one of “combating threats” to “preserving/assisting the social health of the community.” Defeating the “other” may be the appropriate mindset in war, but heavy knees are hell on the health of a community that includes those officers.

  2. Curious

    Mr. Williams’s letter was forceful. I’m curious as to why a person in his position is writing a letter to a newspaper, rather than using his position to write directly (or talk directly) to our local legislative delegation and others in positions to implement his suggestions? Perhaps he is doing both?

    • Todd Williams

      I absolutely have communicated this proposal directly to our local legislators; it is also important to get the message out publicly for obvious reasons.

      • Curious

        Thank you for writing the letter and for advocating these changes with our legislators and other leaders.

  3. Jason Williams

    The Smoky Park (Jeff Bowen) bridge, and the medical station incidents are two glaring examples of how mismanaged the City’s and , in turn, APD’s response to this situation was.

    • James

      And I prefer to look at the actions taken by the city to keep us safe from Covid-19 and the officers who kneeled in sympathy. I am appalled by the police chief’s response to the water bottle issue but overall while there is room for improvement, on balance we’re in better shape that you seem to imply. But I understand why you’d feel that way. Build on the good as an example rather than condemn an entire group because the actions of a few create a prejudice that colors every encounter. That’s how Floyd ended up being murdered.

  4. Dopamina

    Nothing will change as long as we have a “War on Drugs”. What does a drug user look like? Literally anyone.

    So if you are a soldier in the War on Drugs, you are literally surrounded by potential enemies – no wonder they’re so damn paranoid and secretive!

    Decriminalizing drugs would be an excellent first step. Not only does it de-escalate relations with the police, it would take them out of many poor minority neighborhoods because often, the only reason cops are in those neighborhoods is to pick the low-hanging fruit that are drug users.

    Stop the War on Drugs and many of the systemic issues we have in our society would be alleviated.

    • James

      Ok, I generally find myself in sympathy to your viewpoint but…. May I politely and seriously ask you the following please?

      How does making drugs cheaper and easier to get NOT increase the rate of addiction and the need for more rehab which is already very limited as well as costly?
      We plead the need for more rehab but then turn around and say we should increase the number of addicts. I find that contradiction hard to accept. Not to mention, how many truly functioning addicts do we see in society? Most homeless and criminal issues spring from actions taken by people doing things while high, not just to finance their addiction. Thanks for engaging.

  5. Thank you, Todd Williams, for taking an important stand on eliminating the “Blue Wall of Silence.” An excellent step forward in eliminating system racism in our community and beyond!

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