Justice in Policing Act is a critical first step towards changing the warrior culture of policing

August 26, 2020
Editorial

As seen in Medium

Rayshard Brooks did not have to die. His life mattered. But if there is anything the past six years has taught us, it is that too many police departments and elected officials throughout the United States, the lives of black people do not matter. Rayshard Brooks needed a guardian to keep him safe. He needed a guardian whose top priority is the protection and sanctity of human life — regardless of race, gender, alienage, or sexual preference. Instead, Rayshard Brooks got a warrior, whose main priority was imposing order and punishment. Instead of a guardian, Rayshard Brooks got a warrior, who shot him in the back, imposing untold pain and suffering on Mr. Brooks’ family and friends.

Mr. Brooks is the latest in a long line of cruel and unnecessary police executions. George Floyd, who police choked to death in broad daylight, did not have to die. Breonna Taylor, who police shot to death while she was asleep in her own home, did not have to die. Walter Scott, Stephon Clark, Eric Garner — none of them had to die. Each of them were denied their constitutional right to due process. The consistent message is all too clear and can no longer be avoided or ignored by anyone. Black lives do not matter to police.

We are tired of mourning the lives lost through police violence. We want to PREVENT police from killing citizens. In order to do that, we need to change the culture of policing so that when a police officer looks at a citizen, they seem themselves — not an enemy combatant. We need to change the culture of policing so that the police see themselves as guardians — and not warriors. We need to change the culture of policing so that it is no longer us versus them. It is just “us.”

But nothing will change unless we, the people, change it. We must not lose faith that change is possible — but we must believe in our own ability to make it happen.

The Justice in Policing Act is a critical first step towards changing the warrior culture of policing. The Act is a first step towards establishing accountability that for too long has been absent and takes a first step towards restoring the community’s trust in law enforcement, which as we can see from nearly four consecutive weeks of protest, is completely absent.

The Justice in Policing Act takes a first step towards restoring the peoples trust in law enforcement in several ways:

· First, it makes it easier to criminally prosecute officers who kill civilians in the line of duty or that otherwise violate our constitutional rights.

· Second, it makes it easier for families that have been injured by police brutality to receive financial compensation for their losses.

· Third, it bans militarized weapons of war from our streets and neighborhoods.

· Fourth, it bans racial profiling and requires the collection of demographic data relating to police/citizen encounters, including stops, searches, and applications of force.

· It promotes national, professionalized standards for policing through the accreditation process, including a national use of force standard.

· It promotes transparency by requiring the use of body and patrol vehicle cameras.

· It establishes a national registry to track officers that repeatedly violate departmental disciplinary rules.

· It bans no-knock warrants

· And it bans chokeholds.

The Justice in Policing Act is a great first step towards fixing a state sanctioned system of racism and brutality that African Americans have been fighting against for over 150 years. But more work can and must be done in order to reach our goal of fully transforming the institution of policing to one that prioritizes human life above all else.
Broadly speaking, we need to continue to fight for reforms in the following areas:

First — reducing the impact that law-enforcement has in the lives of everyday citizens. Not every legal violation requires an arrest or even intervention by a law enforcement officer. We should promote policies that allow armed police to focus on only the most inherently dangerous situations. For example, Mr. Brooks could have been issued a summons for court and escorted home, instead of being handcuffed, taken down to the station, and thrown in jail subject to paying cash for his release.

Second — giving police chiefs and commissioners the tools to change police culture from within. That means eliminating procedural protections within the administrative disciplinary process that allow officers to escape discipline and violate internal codes of conduct with impunity. One of those provisions is the “cooling off period,” which prohibits a police officer from being questioned about a use-of-force incident for a period of time ranging up to 10 days following the incident. These types of protections result in officers escaping any internal discipline and sends a message to the entire department that they can violate departmental rules with impunity. It was that level of impunity that was written all over Derek Chauvin’s face as he casually choked the life out of George Floyd for over 8 minutes, in broad daylight, in front of a crowd of people. One wonders how many times Chauvin had executed that maneuver, without it being recorded on video.

Third — we need to strengthen external accountability measures so that it is clear to the public that police misconduct will not be tolerated. For example, I’ve introduced the Grand Jury Reform Act, which requires that a judge make a non-binding determination of whether probable cause exists to criminally charge a police officer who kills in the line of duty after a public hearing based on evidence presented by a special, independent prosecutor. I will also be introducing legislation to require that each law enforcement officer carry mandatory liability insurance, so that the financial costs of violent and reckless police conduct are transferred from taxpayers to the officers themselves as an additional deterrent to police brutality.

This will be a long fight. We’ve gotten to the first step, and that is due only to the people who have consistently and peacefully protested in the name of George Floyd. To that multiracial, multigenerational coalition of people in Atlanta and across the world, fighting to make their voices heard, I say we hear you, we thank you — and please continue to fight. This fight is not unlike the civil rights movement. It took nine years to get from the Montgomery Bus Boycott, where Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus, to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which eliminated discrimination in public accommodations and employment. The bus boycott itself lasted 381 days. So please, we have a long road ahead, but we are in this together, and let’s continue the fight to make sure the world knows that Black Lives Matter.

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