AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Activists in the Black Lives Matter movement have answered critics who have asked for specific policy proposals. A group in the movement published a 10-point agenda to reduce police violence in this country. The plan is called "Campaign Zero." It calls for stronger guidelines limiting the use of force and banning police quotas for tickets and arrests. Brittany Packnett is one of the people behind the proposals, and we reached her today in St. Louis.
BRITTANY PACKNETT: Hi, Audie. Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: So I want to dig into some of the proposals here - first, the idea of ending the police practice known as broken windows. And this is a theory where you target low-level crimes, whether it be disorderly conduct or trespassing, because you want to improve kind of life in a community, right? And how do you think this would make a difference?
PACKNETT: Well, what we've seen is that the continued enforcement of low-level crimes with overzealous force has been deadly for black people in this country. When we think about what Eric Garner was doing the day that he was killed after being choked on Staten Island - selling loose cigarettes should never be something that lands you in a coffin. And so when we think about the criminalization of blackness of marginalized communities, it often begins with the enforcement of these very low-level crimes with overzealous and overuse of force.
CORNISH: But at the same time, you have - you may have communities and neighborhoods where people want increased police presence, right? And I'm sure people are thinking about this in the summer, where they're seeing some summer crime spikes. What does this mean for folks who think that these theories, these approaches make them safer?
PACKNETT: I think we have to really talk about building strong communities from the bottom up. "Campaign Zero" is a particular focus on police violence. But more broadly, our movement has consistently been talking about the effects of institutionalized and systemic oppression and racism in our communities. And that has the unfortunate outcome of leading to increased crime, poor schooling, poor health care. So we really need to be talking about how to make our communities healthy from the inside out as a means of reducing crime.
CORNISH: Another issue you discuss is policing for profit. This is the idea of departments with arrest quotas or ticket quotas tied to the performance of police officers. You argue that this obviously can create pressure on communities and put pressure on officers that can hurt policing.
PACKNETT: You know, even a cursory review of the Department of Justice's report on Ferguson this last year will show you that policing for profit is an incredibly prevalent issue in a lot of our communities, especially our communities that are suffering from large proportions of people with low incomes. You know, I grew up in St. Louis. I've lived in North St. Louis County for most of my life, which is where Ferguson is. And citizens and everyday residents are - we are all quite familiar with policing for profit.
What it looks like is that we are given a lot of traffic fines and tickets. So if you are unable to make court, say, on one Tuesday that it is open for just a few hours, you then get another fine. That leaves people in an endless loop of debt. And that happens when municipalities decide to raise their revenue on the backs of the citizens.
CORNISH: Which of these proposals do you think is the most pressing, the one you'd like to see actual movement on?
PACKNETT: I think in particular, ending broken-windows policing such that issues like stop-and-frisk and the criminalization of minor acts in communities of color can stop immediately and there can be a really felt difference, especially for young people of color. Additionally, the demilitarization of local police departments - just last Wednesday, a number of peaceful protesters, myself included, were tear-gassed in a densely-populated residential area around the corner, actually, from my church. And there is pretty consistent understanding that that is not how residents of the United States should be treated. And I certainly think that the demilitarization of the police is an urgent matter.
CORNISH: You know, this comes as there's been so much criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement for not quote, unquote, "having an agenda, having a bulleted plan." Was that a fair criticism? I mean, were there arguments about that, did you hear, within the movement?
PACKNETT: We've had demands for over the last year. They can be found in many different places. Maybe they weren't as accessible as they needed to be, but they were certainly there. And they were certainly being spoken by protesters and activists all across this country. You know, we've certainly seen progress, and we've continued to make demands. I think that if we weren't doing that, we would not have the attention of important presidential candidates right now, and quite frankly, I don't think you and I would be having this conversation. And so I think there's a great deal of wisdom that can come from people who've been doing this work for a long time. But I do hope that people recognize that we've been making very clear demands and have been making real progress for over the last year.
CORNISH: Are you surprised somewhat at the criticism that's come from progressives, from some Democrats who have quibbled with the movement's tactics - interrupting campaigns and things like that. Do you sense, like, a generational divide here?
PACKNETT: I think this is actually really reflective of America's still very difficult relationship with race. And so I think as we continue down this path toward 2016 and beyond, we really need to reckon with the fact that people are angry. And it's not for us to try to control people's responses. It's for us to try to understand people's responses.
CORNISH: Well, Brittany Packnett, thank you so much for speaking with us.
PACKNETT: Thank you very much.
CORNISH: Brittany Packnett - she's one of the activists behind a list of proposals aimed at eliminating police violence.
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