Orlando Weekly published the letter by Orlando CopWatch member Ben Markeson in its Aug. 16 issue. The material in brackets was not published by the Weekly.
How interesting that Orlando Police Department Lt. William H. Wood, in his response to comments made by George Crossley in Orlando Weekly's article on Orlando CopWatch, expended so much effort correcting Mr. Crossley's apparent mistake about the number of sworn officers employed by the department. It seems that Lt. Wood wants to deflect attention away from the broader implications of CopWatch; namely, that a significant number of local citizens don't trust many of the police and sheriff's deputies who are supposed to protect them to do their jobs in a professional and unbiased manner, and to use force, whether lethal or non-lethal, as a last resort.
[Partly out of desperation and partly out of self-empowerment,] those citizens are taking to the streets legally and peacefully to monitor the local constabulary. They
believe the police should be accountable to those who pay their salaries and who can
suffer [and even die] when they act improperly.
It's irrelevant whether on any given night, all 1,100 or 700 or however many sworn OPD officers, or however many Orange County Sheriff's Deputies, know that Orlando CopWatch is on the streets. What matters is that they are aware that Orlando CopWatch
may be out there, and they, by their own accounts, are adjusting their behavior accordingly, to the mutual benefit of the public and their careers.
If Lt. Wood has "yet to see even a hint of systemic or organizational corruption or brutality" in the OPD or other local law enforcement agencies, perhaps he's willfully overlooking problems or simply can't understand what it's like to be on the powerless side of an encounter with law enforcement, particularly if you live in a poor community of color. Orlando CopWatch continues to receive a steady trickle of complaints from citizens residing in certain areas about harassment, racial profiling and excessive force, and patrols those areas so that citizens there may begin to feel a small measure of peace and safety.
[As for OPD's Internal Affairs Unit, the fact that OPD officers are not "enamored by" it (as Lt. Wood so quaintly put it) is irrelevant to the issues at hand. The basic premise of an IA unit, that the police can and should be trusted to police their own ranks and to mete out sanctions to errant officers when appropriate, is dubious at best. However, what little credibility that idea may have is totally undermined by OPD's failure to effectively publicize its IA unit so that citizens may avail themselves of it.
For the record, participants in Orlando CopWatch are not Mr. Crossley's or anyone else's "minions." What a demeaning and insulting characterization. Lt. Wood just doesn't get it. CopWatch exists not because some "leader" is somehow manipulating people into supporting it (an imaginative although grossly inaccurate implication), but because of large festering problems with how local law enforcement interacts with citizens and communities.
CopWatch activists are concerned citizens from all walks of life who through CopWatch attempt to make democracy a meaningful concept. By that we mean citizens being able to control their own lives and their own communities. This includes demanding accountability of government agencies that are supposed to serve the people rather than instilling fear and contempt in them while demanding servitude and blind obedience.
Also, for the record, Mr. Crossley, while a welcome and active participant in Orlando CopWatch, is not its leader. Nor is Orlando CopWatch a creature of the Central Florida ACLU or any other organization. It is a wholly independent, non-hierarchical group that arose from the community and its members collectively make decisions about how it operates.]