Erika Shields the new Chief of LMPD will be sworn on January 19th. (Foto Donis)

Louisville and Atlanta are both similar in that last summer these cities witnessed gruesome racial protests motivated by the death of people in cases where the police unjustly fired their weapons.

In Louisville, Breonna Taylor died while watching television in her apartment. Police shot her while searching for a drug-dealing suspect in the wrong apartment. The police department made several arguments trying to justify the incident, and even tried to tie Taylor to drugs. On the other hand, police stated they were in their right of self-defense because Taylor’s boyfriend fired back, also in self-defense, when the police unannouncedly entered the apartment.

In Atlanta, Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by the police after failing a sobriety test. The police said Brooks tried to grab an officer’s taser. But Brooks was shot in the back as he ran away.

As of January 19th, Louisville will have the same chief of police Atlanta had when the events that led to Brooks death happened.

Erika Shields resigned as chief of police after the protests started by Brooks’ death and after firing the officer involved.

Louisville Mayor, Greg Fischer, described during his press conference the way Shields left office as an exemplary act of class, thus allowing the city to find peace again.

After a rigorous selection process, Shields was selected to be the new Chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department. During this process, a survey was conducted. The survey had the participation of over 10,000 people, including leaders from the private sector, the government and non-profit organizations, which resulted in the unanimous election of Erika Shields.

“Shields has all the qualities needed in a city leader. She will be crucial in bringing the police department into a new era,” said Mayor Fischer.

Shields said she was honored to have been selected for such an important position. Yet she acknowledges that there is still much to be done in the area of policing. “In Louisville there is a lot of potential to create a city model that other cities can follow,” said Shields.

Shields has been a police officer for over 25 years in Atlanta, where the majority of the population is black. She has worked for African-American police chiefs and mayors. Based on that experience, Shields concludes that the links between institutionalized racism and policing deserve more than just training on policies that prohibit discrimination. “History and current challenges of people of color must also be taken into consideration if we are to succeed in the communities that need it most,” Shields said.

The Hispanic Community

In Atlanta, the Latino community is over half a million people, which represents over 10 percent of the total population. Shields told Al Día in America that during her work as department chief two officers were hired to serve as liaisons among the Hispanic community, so they could listen to the community’s concerns. “These liaisons were critical for us to get feedback on what concerned the community,” she said.

Atlanta police stopped working with ICE in September 2017, after the Metropolitan Council passed a resolution to limit collaboration between these two law enforcement agencies.

A similar ordinance was passed two months later in Louisville, limiting police work with federal immigration authorities.

Shields said that diversity and community involvement will be the pillars of her department. “You have to have people who represent the whole community, that’s a huge priority for me. In Atlanta, we really made an extra effort to hire officers of Latino descent. And the Council approved a pay raise for officers who were proficient in the Spanish language,” she said.

Latino leaders in Louisville share their views on the new head of the LMPD

“Let the Law be applied in an equal manner, transparency. Let there be a clear connection between “Law” and ‘Principles’ (Human Dignity, Justice (Without Justice there will be no peace) and treat any person as a person.

Our community is still grieving and broken by the actions of some members of the Police Department. “If an in-depth change in the system is not done, we will not be able to ensure that people in our city will continue to be treated as second-class citizens,” says Edgardo Mansilla, Executive Director of Americana Community Center, who has been working with the immigrant community for decades.

“The new Chief of the Department must implement new ordinances to ensure that every police officer takes responsibility for his or her actions. And of course, keep the ‘Do Not Mingle’ with ICE,” said Mansilla.

Karina Barillas, from La Casita Center, believes that working in collaboration with each other is vital to building trust.

“I truly hope that we can work collaboratively so that our community feels safe and trusts in the Police Department. I also want Chief Shields to strongly enforce the ordinance that limits the work between the police and ICE authorities.”

Alex Alvarez, a member of the KIHBC business group, believes that there is a need to bring the police closer to the community of color. It is equally important to identify, by working closely with non-profit organizations, the necessary resources in Louisville to support the population.

The biggest challenge

In Louisville the protests have continued and just last week, eight months later, it was announced that two more officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor were fired.

In 2020, the number of murder cases increased by 81 percent compared to 2019. In the summer this number was even higher. Regarding this issue, Shields agrees that the biggest challenge is armed violence. “It is unacceptable. This triad of violence, guns and drugs needs to be addressed. If we deal with the problem of guns and drugs, the violence has to go down,” she said.

By Jose Donis / AlDía en América.

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