In August, Mayor Kasim Reed made an announcement that was called “historic” — he appointed a transgender woman to the Atlanta Citizen Review Board.
The mayor named Tracee McDaniel to the board that investigates police misconduct and is then largely ignored.
McDaniel, who was born a male, sees herself as a woman, became a singer/entertainer and now has become an activist for a small, marginalized community that takes lots of abuse.
“It is always essential to have minority voices in the room, and our LGBTQ community has a tremendous stake in positive police-community relations,” Hizzoner said at the time.
But there’s a problem. McDaniel doesn’t live in the city as called for in law. And she has a couple of criminal convictions, which Review Board members believe could be used by police and other critics to undermine the board’s legitimacy.
Never mind, says Reed. We’ll just change the law for McDaniel. Remember, this is an historic announcement, and great historical figures didn’t always get things done by following bothersome laws.
What turned this into a problem was the Review Board’s director is supposed to vet incoming board members. That point has become important because last year the city had to rescind an appointment of a former cop with a past abuse allegation.
Well, don’t worry about that, the administration said, we’ll do the vetting. When the director, Samuel Lee Reid, insisted on getting involved, he saw that McDaniel not only lived in Decatur but had criminal convictions for assault and shoplifting and had a criminal trespass charge that was dismissed. McDaniel didn’t respond to calls for comment.
All were more than 20 years old and none were felonies. Still…
“From an agency perspective, the legitimacy of the board’s decisions may come into question and officers may have concerns about having an individual with a criminal past making decisions that may affect their livelihood,” the Review Board’s Reid wrote in a letter to Mayor Reed’s office. “A board member with a criminal history becomes an easy target for civilian oversight detractors and an easier scapegoat for police officers and the police department to not cooperate with the agency.”
He then laid it out more plainly to his board members in an email:
“In light of the very low percentage of discipline that the APD assigns to ACRB complaints, the board may be facing the beginning of the end to any possibility of providing citizens a fair opportunity to receive redress for officer misconduct.”
Director Reid was referring to another historic fact — APD largely ignores the Review Board. In fact, board members say, the police department has only upheld a quarter of the cases when it recommended that an officer be disciplined.
It’s been this way for nearly a decade. The Review Board is like gum on the bottom of the city’s wingtip — the administration is stuck with it.
The board was created in the outrage following the illegal raid in 2006 into the home of Kathryn Johnston, the 92-year-old lady who was riddled by cop bullets. The board is to look into alleged police misconduct and recommend punishment if warranted.
I don’t know how important it is to have a transgender person on the board; studies say they make up .3 to .6 percent of the population, though Atlanta’s proportion is probably higher. But I figure Hizzoner could find such a person who lives in the city and without a record.
The push-back against how the mayor is going about his appointment has brought about its own push-back.
First, there’s a whispering campaign, presumably orchestrated by the administration, that the board is uncomfortable with the “T” part of the LGBTQ. It’s a powerful tool: call someone racist or homophobic these days and people will curl up into a defensive ball and say, “Please stop! You can have your way.”
Naturally, Review Board members say they are neither -ists nor -phobes.
Later, a mayoral aide gave what Review Board members see as a threat to the board’s existence.
Katrina Taylor Parks told a City Council committee, “We have gotten a call about reviewing the overall governance of this particular board so it remains relevant.”
Reed, through another intermediary, said he stands by his appointee, who has worked with the police department’s LGBT Advisory Board and with the Justice Department.
A spokesperson added the mayor is not threatening the board, he just wants it to remain “relevant.”
I figure with police actions now under a microscope, a civilian board overseeing police is relevant. And it would be even more relevant if the police listened to it.
In August, the mayor spoke of this subject in a rare visit to the Review Board, one that came days after Channel 46 pointed out the seat he appoints had gone vacant for three years. Reed called the board “an independent guardian,” although he admitted he hadn’t spent much time thinking about its decisions.
“One of the things that we can do better in my office,” the mayor added, “is stronger monitoring of the decisions that are set forth from this body and I think that will probably influence the police chief’s decision in these matters.”