Digital Exclusive: ‘We Want Police Reform Now’ Rally

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Peaceful protests continue in Wilkes-Barre. The fight for equality and against any form of police brutality wages on.

The recent push for a citizen review board that would hold investigative powers when dealing with police complaints was voted down. Councilwoman Beth Gilbert McBride had a feeling the first try would falter, but presses on.

“It’s not meant to be an attack on police. If you’re doing your job then you have nothing to worry about but there needs to be a level of accountability here,” she said. “Residents need to know that if something does happen that they have an avenue to file a complaint.”

In a time where all eyes and cameras are putting police work under the microscope — many want change. People are organizing, some still taking to the streets when hearing that city council thinks the review board is too much by a 3-2 vote.

“Our concern is if you don’t believe there’s an issue, how confident can we be that you’re looking to resolve a problem?” said Sharee Clark, who joined the protest outside City Hall. “Ultimately we’re looking for a layer of accountability which we know, at this point, is not something that the mayor’s proposal will allow.”

The mayor’s advisory committee and the councilwoman’s review board are two different approaches to the same problem. The hope? For either to improve relations before the Diamond City sees something comparable to Minneapolis, Louisville or others.

“Even though we haven’t had a problem the same magnitude as some other cities, in terms of anyone dying, it very well could happen in Wilkes-Barre. It could happen anywhere,” said councilwoman Gilbert McBride. “To say that we don’t have a problem is concerning. Council members need to know that there is a problem here and we need to address it.”

The mayor’s advisory committee is open for applications and Brown sees it as an inclusive and proactive approach.

“They will have the authority to come up with ideas and listen to the concerns of the people that will come before them and make proposals and so forth about the way people were treated as well as what should happen next,” noted Mayor George Brown.

Council chair Bill Barrett sees the most effective reform coming from the federal and state levels, down. Both Barrett and Brown say the police department and the district attorney’s office are enough to handle complaints and investigations. The advisory committee would hopefully be a preventative measure.

“It’s looking at ways to improve the department and improve community relations and prevent things from occurring that have been occurring across this country,” said Barrett.

The goal for some on council was to have the board and committee both working in separate aspects. With the first draft of the review board down, some would encourage participation in the advisory committee while the next draft is written.

“I’m all for inserting ourselves in places where we can be a part of the conversation. So yes, I would admonish and encourage inserting ourselves where the opportunities present themselves,” Clark added.

As the push continues for more local reform, a community stands together and adamant for change.

“We need to make them aware of what the issues are out here. We need to make them aware that a citizens review board is necessary,” said Wilkes-Barre community organizer Ricky Cephas. “We need them to make sure that the police are being held responsible for their actions.”

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