Group demands Greater Houston Partnership to use its economic influence to push for policy change

HOUSTON – A national community activism organization Thursday demanded the Houston Police Department release body cam video of recent officer-involved-shootings.

The National Black United Front’s Houston chapter demanded Mayor Sylvester Turner and HPD Chief Art Acevedo implement policy changes geared toward improving the department’s transparency with the community, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

While Acevedo has condemned the officers charged in connection with Floyd’s death and marched with Houstonians in several protests throughout downtown, critics blast his actions as hypocritical. They point to six recent fatal officer-involved shootings within HPD since April.

“We don’t believe he’s pushing for justice for George Floyd. We believe that there is damage control, propaganda campaign that is going on and that they say you know people in institutions by their actions and that’s a whole part of the suggestions that we’ve put out around real structural changes,” said Kofi Taharka, the national chairman of the National Black United Front.

The organization outlined several reform measures for area law enforcement to implement. Here are some:

  • Legislation that would repeal qualified immunity: federal legal framework outlined by the Supreme Court intended to public officials accountable for misconduct, while protecting them from lawsuits alleging a violation of a plaintiff’s rights. That’s done by requiring proof that a public official violated a “clearly established” constitutional right. Critics argue the measure protects guilty officers from a conviction.
  • Demilitarization of police departments, including ceasing the purchase of old military equipment.
  • Forbid an officer previously fired for misconduct from further employment with another law enforcement agency.
  • Require officers to live in the communities they serve.

“I just want to urge our communities not to be gaslighted by the Mayor. Not to gaslighted by the Chief of Police. Anything that they want to implement, anything they feel like needs to be done, anything they’re passionate about, from their perspective, it happens immediately,” said Swartara Olushola, a member of the National Black United Front.

The organization made its demands in front of the Greater Houston Partnership headquarters in downtown Houston, calling on the economic development organization to use its influence to push for change.

“We challenge Bob Harvey of the Greater Houston Partnership that deals with business for this entire region to use the influence and power of this institution to help make real structural change,” Taharka said.

Bob Harvey, president and CEO, Greater Houston Partnership, responded to NBUF’s comments by committing to work with community leaders to address racial inequality.

Here is the full statement from Bob Harvey, the President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership:

While the issues of racial inequity and systemic racism are not unique to Houston, we have an opportunity as Houstonians to lead the way in reforming broken systems, building up communities, offering support and removing barriers. We often speak with pride of Houston being ‘America’s most diverse city.’ This is our moment to make Houston ‘America’s most inclusive and open city’, one that does truly offer ‘opportunity for all.’ The Partnership and the 1,100 member companies and institutions we represent are committed to this endeavor. We intend to work with other groups and leaders across the region in the weeks and months – and if need be years – ahead to make diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice a reality for all in Houstonians.