© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin
By Brad Brooks
(Reuters) – Last summer, millions of ordinary Americans took to the streets to protest racism, police violence and the murder of George Floyd.
In the year since then, many people have turned their energies and anger into action. Across the country, civilians in special forces and elected officials in state legislatures are driving changes that experts say address the root causes of misconduct. police targeting minority communities. Reforms at the state and local levels over the past year included the creation of supervisory boards that were not part of the police department or union.
“You can’t just ask the police to do it,” said Robert Davis, a pastor who coordinates a civilian-led task force in Denver preparing a report of the proposed changes to the police. their reform – it will not be implemented. “We must empower the community to take responsibility for public safety.”
Community efforts have existed for generations, and modernizing some 18,000 individual police departments in the United States is a messy, disjointed, and difficult undertaking. But police experts say the efforts now go beyond tackling tactics – such as banning blocking buttons.
Tracie Keesee, who spent 25 years as a police officer in Denver, said: “There is a deeper question not only about resources and tactics, but also asking ‘what are we trying to accomplish?’. “People are really trying to do something new.”
Keesee found that civilians were making great progress in places like Ithaca, New York, where she worked with the mayor’s office proposing to replace the police department with a public safety agency “community solution” – an idea rejected by the local police union. She also cites a move in Austin, Texas, to cut the police budget by a third and use part of that money to tackle social problems like homelessness.
Austin is a left-wing island in a conservative state where Republican governor Greg Abbott is pushing for a law to withhold some of the state’s tax revenues for cities cutting police budgets. That points to obstacles ahead for the reformers.
‘THE FUTURE OF POLITICAL REFORM’
Jeffrey Fagan, a criminal justice scholar at Columbia University, said the federal government has an important role to play in policy reform. But he increasingly believes that state-level efforts promise more in rooting out police misconduct.
“That is the future of police reform,” he said.
He called reforms that include a police oversight committee passed through the Massachusetts legislature and signed into law by another Republican governor, Charlie Baker, in December “remarkable. ” Fagan says they come from elected state officials “with a very strong legalization effect”.
Maryland’s Democratic-led legislature on Saturday also approved aggressive police reforms, overcoming three veto powers from Republican Governor Larry Hogan.
Jonathan Blanks, a visiting fellow at the Equal Opportunity Research Foundation who focuses on policy control, says people often turn to Washington for help on big, systemic problems. . But DC officials don’t have much authority over local police departments, he said.
Days before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin appeared in court last month for the murder of Floyd’s death, the “George Floyd Justice Act in Policy” was passed with little Republican support in the The US House of Representatives is controlled by the Democrats.
Among its provisions, the bill proposed to limit certain funds to local governments for the use of detention by law enforcement officers, requiring law enforcement agencies to supply feed on the use of deadly force and change the “qualified immunity” to keep open to lawsuits against the police. using excessive force. Prospects of the bill are uncertain in the Senate, where a Democratic majority is thin and some moderate Democrats have joined Republicans to express concern that the proposal will redirect funds. that the police need and make the community less secure.
Murphy Robinson, director of public safety in Denver, linked the community’s desire to participate in the review of policy control with the protests last summer. He said he welcomed civilian input, but warned that special forces such as those in his city were formed by religious leaders and communist organizers. There is a need for full representation and greater participation from law enforcement.
Earlier this year, Robinson halted the Public Safety Bureau’s participation in Denver’s task force because he said his team’s role was limited to answering questions, which the coordinator said. denied by task force Davis.
“If you don’t have people doing this daily work at the desk, we will miss out on the chance to really work together for real change, real criminal justice transformation,” Robinson said. “Robinson said.
Xochitl Gaytan, a community activist and a member of the Denver task force, said they need to listen to underrepresented communities for police abuse.
She said Floyd’s death and the disproportionate impact the pandemic had on minority communities helped inspire Americans from many communities to confront what she said was racist. Systematic clan and class discrimination in police and other organizations.
The police reforms may eventually be passed, she added, “may not be as great as one might hope, but it will open up opportunities for us to continue to challenge the system in the future.”