N.H. Activists Continue The Fight For Police Accountability
It’s been over a year since Gov. Chris Sununu’s statewide commission on police accountability and transparency first met. The LEACT commission released almost 50 recommendations for statewide police reform last August.
Since then, the New Hampshire legislature passed some of those recommendations and other state agencies have made changes. But grassroots organizers who first started the movement in New Hampshire say the state still has a long way to go, and they're continuing to push for police reform in their local communities.
Ronelle Tshiela served on the LEACT commission, and she's also the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Manchester. She spoke with NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley about her experience in advocating for police reform this past year.
Rick Ganley: There were many moments during legislative hearings this session where lawmakers were disrespectful toward grassroots organizers and advocates for police reform. Did this affect your approach to organizing?
Ronelle Tshiela: I don't think that it affected our approach to organizing, but I do believe that it discouraged us a lot. There was one hearing in particular that I remember where we were discussing the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters. And there was a state representative that laughed during a testimony from one of my fellow organizers who organizes for BLM Nashua. And the chair of that committee chose not to reprimand him. And so it was really difficult to be ridiculed every time we went into a hearing to testify for what we believed in. I don't know that it discouraged us, but I think it led us to want to focus a lot of our efforts, not just in the State House, but in our individual communities and see what needs needed to be met there as well.
Rick Ganley: Well, local chapters of Black Lives Matter and other grassroots organizations have put a lot of energy into their local communities this past year. This does include leading the movement to defund local police departments. Can you talk more about those local efforts?
Ronelle Tshiela: Yeah, I think we're really trying to focus efforts in individual police departments because we do know that a lot of these issues need to be discussed at our localities. And so we have organizers that specifically focus on the need to take money away from police departments and reinvest that money into the parts of our communities that really need help. For example, in our Manchester school district, we suffer a lot when it comes to funding and when it comes to being able to give our students the education that they deserve. And a lot of the money that's being put into the Manchester Police Department could be used to reinvest in other areas of our community that could be very helpful and in turn would lead us to not even need more police officers. And so I think that that's something that we're going to be focusing on more in the future and that we're really trying to push now.
Rick Ganley: You served as a public member of the LEACT commission. Most of the other members worked in law enforcement, state agencies and the court system here in the state. What was your experience like working with those other members?
Ronelle Tshiela: It was really difficult. From the beginning, I felt as though I had to prove my worthiness to have a voice on the commission. And so a lot of the times I felt as though I was being overlooked or underestimated. And so it was very difficult to have conversations in good faith with members of the commission.
Rick Ganley: Well, can you describe some of those conversations and about the tone of those conversations?
Ronelle Tshiela: Yeah. So a lot of the times I would make recommendations based around the types of things that I felt that my community members wanted and my community members thought needed to be addressed. And I was met with a lot of pushback from the law enforcement members on the commission. And a lot of the times I was being blatantly disrespected or insulted by different members of the commission. So it was really difficult to represent my community, and put forth the recommendations that I thought made sense here in New Hampshire and were recommendations that we needed because we really do have work to do here. So I had to deal with that all throughout the summer.
Rick Ganley: Why do you think that is? Do you feel like they just didn't get it?
Ronelle Tshiela: I do believe they didn't get it. I think that they made it very clear that they thought that the issues that I wanted to discuss and the issues that I brought forth, a lot of them weren't things that we needed here in New Hampshire, because they fail to see that we do have a problem of systemic racism here in New Hampshire. That coupled with the fact that I am a Black Lives Matter activist, made for it to be very difficult for me to have conversations with them and for them to take my concerns seriously.
Rick Ganley: Ronelle, what are some of the issues you'd like to see brought up that maybe have not been discussed much in the past year?
Ronelle Tshiela: I'd like to see more discussion on qualified immunity. I think that those things can be an enemy to accountability. And so in the spirit of transparency and accountability, which was literally what the commission was about, I think that those things should have been discussed more heavily on the commission, and I'd like to see more discussion on them in the future.
Rick Ganley: Well, I know you've been one of the leaders to the forefront of this movement here in New Hampshire this past year. What's next for you?
Ronelle Tshiela: So I think for me, I'm going to be focusing a lot of my efforts on my individual community and looking at how I can help students of color in the Manchester School District and individual families of color in the Manchester community to see what needs need to be met right here in my home city, especially since I'll be starting law school in the fall. And so I'll have a little less time for legislative efforts and things like that. However, I do still want to be going wherever the movement needs me. So that's what I'll be up to.