Potent Police Reform Is Critical Next Step for Civil Rights Post-George Floyd Verdict
Congress, DOJ, and state lawmakers must act ASAP to effectuate racial justice in policing.
Now that a semblance of justice has been rendered via the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd, it’s time to maximize the movement for systemic police reform. This is an urgent national priority to achieve equal justice under law for all citizens, especially for communities of color.
It should be obvious to any objective observer that the current paradigm of policing disproportionately impacts African Americans and other minority groups in major ways. Discriminatory law enforcement and criminal justice procedures range from racial profiling in arrests, to police brutality, to racism in convictions and sentencing (the list goes on)— all of which can be based on both conscious and unconscious bias.
It’s way past time for comprehensive police reform on a national level. No one should ever be targeted by police due to their race, color, ethnicity or other discriminatory factors.
Racist policing should be a relic in the 21st century, not a recurring reality. And while most police officers act heroically and responsibly to protect the general public, not all do.
While most police are not racist, some are, which gives a bad name to all police and severely damages the public trust. That’s why the bad apples must be rooted out by fellow officers who understand, value and abide by accountability, transparency and moral responsibility in community policing.
Even one racist cop is one too many. Good cops must not be silent bystanders or accomplices to bad cops who break the law with reckless indifference.
On a positive note, some substantive steps toward police reform are already taking place at the federal and state levels.
Maryland and Virginia, for example, recently enacted groundbreaking legislation that can serve as a model for other states to make policing more fair and equitable.
The public should also be hopeful about police reform because a reinvigorated Department of Justice (DOJ) under President Biden is once again doing its job to effectuate racial justice. This is a drastic departure from the right-wing Trump DOJ, not to mention a twice impeached president who many unbiased citizens correctly viewed as the racist-in-chief.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a broad “pattern and practice” investigation into race discrimination within the Minneapolis police department. This is separate from the DOJ criminal investigation into the death of George Floyd, which continues. The governor of Minnesota and the mayor of Minneapolis have both pledged their cooperation with the federal probes, a good sign.
“Building trust between community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us,” said AG Garland, “But we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.”
This announcement by the attorney general (article below) is a much needed development. Nevertheless, the DOJ must expand such investigations of police departments beyond Minnesota, in conjunction with state and local governments, to finally overhaul discriminatory policing in every state and jurisdiction.
Racist police, in one form or another, have been a tragic truism for African Americans dating to before the abolishment of slavery via the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865 (read about “slave patrols”).
Racism in policing can be overt or covert, intentional or unintentional, conscious or unconscious. Either way, it’s wrong and must not be tolerated.
Moreover, Senate Republicans must stop stalling and join Democrats to swiftly pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was narrowly approved by the House last summer (albeit with no Republican votes). The Senate requires bipartisanship to make legislative progress, but bipartisanship is a fleeting commodity in Congress. The Senate needs at least 60 votes to avoid a threatened filibuster by Republicans killing the legislation.
Thus the fate of the George Floyd police reform bill remains precarious, even as tense negotiations to reach common ground continue behind the scenes on Capitol Hill. It’s critically important for a bipartisan consensus to emerge.
President Biden is ready to sign the historic bill honoring George Floyd, which he characterized as “meaningful police reform…It shouldn’t take a year to get it done.”
AG Garland announces federal probe into policing practices in Minneapolis
The move comes a day after the guilty verdicts in the Derek Chauvin trial. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced…
Maryland Sets the Stage
In early April, Maryland state lawmakers overrode a veto by Republican Governor Larry Hogan to enact what The New York Times (NYT) called “sweeping police reform legislation” (article below).
The bill, called the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 — Police Discipline and Law Enforcement Programs and Procedures, includes the following landmark provisions:
- Limiting “use of force” by police officers, with a potential 10-year prison penalty if convicted.
- Restricting invasive “no-knock warrants” (which led to the death of Breonna Taylor).
- Nixing the state’s Bill of Rights for law enforcement, the first such measure nationwide going back to the 1970s.
- Allowing citizen participation on “administrative charging committees” to address police misconduct and recommend discipline.
- Requiring body cameras by 2025 for all officers who interact with the public.
- Precluding police from stopping the public from recording them to document wrongdoing.
“The changes placed Maryland at the forefront of a national debate over police brutality and the use of excessive force, a discussion that has gained intensity since Mr. Floyd was killed in police custody last year,” the NYT reports.
The bill was sponsored by Adrienne Jones, Speaker of Maryland’s House of Delegates. She is the first African American woman to serve as speaker in the Annapolis statehouse, the oldest state capitol which has remained operational for legislative business since 1772. Speaker Jones said:
“Now, for the first time in our nation’s history, the rights of officers will not be held above the rights of individuals, and policing in Maryland will be transparent and citizen-centered.”
Maryland Passes Sweeping Police Reform Legislation
The measures, enacted over the objections of Gov. Larry Hogan, placed the state at the forefront of a national debate…
In addition to Maryland, a similar police reform bill in Virginia recently became effective. Hopefully, other states will follow these bold examples.
And, hopefully, enough Republicans in the Senate will find the courage to act in the nation’s best interest by passing the George Floyd police reform bill this year. Failure by the Senate to seriously consider and vote on the legislation is simply unacceptable.
The federal government must likewise be more aggressive per appropriate investigative and legal action by the Department of Justice (DOJ), similar to the approach under President Obama via systemic investigations and consent decrees to address discriminatory policing — a successful strategy eviscerated by President Trump.
- There were 25 “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies opened by the Obama DOJ compared to just one such investigation under the Trump DOJ, according to CNN.
Yesterday, commenting on the George Floyd verdict, Obama said: “A jury did the right thing. But true justice requires much more.”
Indeed it does.
The NAACP stated, “The fight for justice is not over! We must continue to stay vigilant in the pursuit of police accountability.”
Indeed we must.
The ACLU reminded us, “We know that accountability isn’t justice.”
Indeed it is not.
“Justice would be George Floyd being home with his family, his loved ones, and his community today,” the ACLU continued.
Indeed it would.
As civil rights advocates and activists know full well, this is not the time to let up in the struggle for racial justice. Rather, it’s time to rev up efforts to make lasting police reform a reality across the country.
Only then will the United States move closer to fulfilling the hallowed promise of equal justice under law.
And not just for African Americans but all Americans.
- NOTE: This article was also featured via The Good Men Project on April 23. A similar version was published in Thrive Global on April 26 (see below)…
Congress Must Pass George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Now!
Senate Republicans must stop stalling and join Democrats to swiftly pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act ASAP…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David is a former career spokesman for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and also served as a political appointee for President Bill Clinton in the White House.