by Gregory Lebens-Higgins
The following comments are from a rally and community speak out calling for justice and accountability for the killing of Todd Novick. On Christmas Eve, Todd Novick was shot multiple times in the back by an RPD officer following an eight-second foot chase.
I am the Secretary of the Rochester Chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, and a public defender.
I applaud the call of DSA-endorsed Councilmembers Stanley Martin, Kim Smith, and Mary Lupien, for an independent and transparent investigation into the killing of Todd Novick, and a review of RPD policies regarding foot pursuits.
In 2022, Chicago Police adopted a policy restricting foot chases for minor offenses after 13-year-old Adam Toledo was shot and killed by police while his hands were raised. The policy restricts police from conducting a foot pursuit based solely on a person’s response to the presence of police, acknowledging that people may avoid contact with police for reasons other than involvement in criminal activity. Police are instructed to engage in foot pursuits only if there is a valid law enforcement need to detain the person, including the commission of a felony, class A misdemeanor, or physical threat.
Given the overcriminalization of human behavior, however, and noting that “retail theft” is an example where foot chases remain permitted, I am pessimistic about the real impact of such a policy.
De-escalation techniques among RPD officers are also sorely lacking. Prior to killing Todd Novick, the as-yet unnamed officer’s interaction took a condescending tone, and he shot Todd in the back before he had time to respond to the officer’s command to “drop the gun.”
It is also important that the Rochester Police Accountability Board be fully empowered to investigate, so that our community members can provide oversight, rather than a coverup by the Attorney General and RPD.
Ultimately, as activists and organizers, we must not focus our energy on mere police reform. We cannot reform a system premised on the violent protection of private property and maintenance of class hierarchy. To quote Alex Vitale’s The End of Policing,
“The basic nature of the law and the police, since its earliest origins, is to be a tool for managing inequality and maintaining the status quo. Police reforms that fail to directly address this reality are doomed to reproduce it.”
Real public safety includes providing reliable housing, accessible healthcare, and robust education. We must disinvest from state violence and reinvest in these forms of protection.
WE KEEP US SAFE, by organizing and building community. We fight against the alienation of capitalism by respecting one another’s humanity, learning from one another, and working together. If you are not yet a member of an abolitionist organization, join one.
To echo comrade Stanley Martin, “The killing of any member of our community, especially by law enforcement, is a failure of our city and public safety systems.”
We can do better. We must do better. Together, a better world is possible.