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Billings group reflects on anti-racism, police accountability at forum

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Posted at 6:22 PM, May 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-24 21:06:06-04

BILLINGS — Conversations about use of force and racial discrimination are being had within communities and law enforcement agencies around the country, including in Billings.

Tom Towe has practiced law in Billings for decades and has a lot of respect for law enforcement.

But following the death of George Floyd, which happened two years ago Wednesday, Towe thought conversations about race, prejudice and policing were needed in Billings.

“There were a number of us that were very impressed with the success of the protests here in Billings,” Towe said. “We just wanted to make sure that some of the enthusiasm for doing something about police brutality, police problems, discrimination in general didn’t die.”

Towe is the president of ADAB–Alliance of Defenders of Acceptance and Belonging. The Billings group has conducted surveys on racism within the community and has taken a deep look into what police accountability means in Billings.

“One of the things we asked, in fact, the number one question we put on our list was what are the rules and policies regarding the use of force, chokeholds and serving no-knock warrants. Very big issues," he said.

Police accountability is a concept that centers around holding individual police officers and law enforcement agencies responsible for doing their jobs while acting within the bounds of the law. Towe says it’s important for maintaining the public’s faith in the system.

President Biden is expected to sign an executive order addressing police accountability on May 25, the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death.

The order includes sections on the establishment of an accountability database of officers fired for misconduct and anti-bias training, among other components.

Just two weeks ago, ADAB met with the Billings Police Department and the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office in Billings to discuss accountability and bias. Towe has found both agencies to be ready partners in tackling these topics.

“They were very responsive and I want to hand it to particularly (Billings Police Chief) Rich St. John, he was very interested in helping. I think by and large, they are really trying to make an effort," he said.

Towe says following the latest shooting, ADAB may call another meeting with law enforcement and include Montana Highway Patrol.