The one-year mark since a Minneapolis police officer used his knee to apply deadly force to George Floyd‘s neck for more than nine minutes has arrived faster than our nation’s elected officials could enact any meaningful legislation to make sure something never happens like that again.
Derek Chauvin has begun rotting away in a prison cell awaiting his sentence for murdering the unarmed, handcuffed 46-year-old Black man in broad daylight on a national holiday in front of a growing group of bystanders, but too many of his former thin blue line colleagues across the country have continued being the judge, jury and, of course, executioner when it comes to Black suspects, regardless of age or gender.
Despite calls for police reform from far and wide, politicians have effectively balked.
The George Floyd Justice In Policing Act — sweeping legislation aimed at reforming the ways in which police departments enforce the nation’s laws — was unveiled on June 8, 2020, exactly two weeks to the day after Floyd was murdered. But that was the only thing swift about the bill that, if it passes both chambers of Congress, ambitiously aims to end police brutality, hold police accountable, improve transparency in policing and create structural change when it comes to how law enforcement does their jobs.
President Joe Biden gave Congress a deadline of Tuesday to get the bill to his desk to sign. That’s the same day that Floyd’s family will be visiting the White House, but Biden won’t have any good news for them as the bill faces more delays.
But oddly enough, even in the wake of Chauvin’s guilty verdict, politicians are still split along party lines over the issue of qualified immunity, a critical portion of the bill that would actually hold police accountable.
Both Democrats and Republicans have deployed high-profiled Black members to be the negotiating face of the bill, but the optics of three Black lawmakers working together in a purportedly bipartisan fashion have been both blurred and blunted by the lack of progress on a bill that was proposed nearly a year ago. Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Democratic California Rep. Karen Bass have been the lead negotiators on the bill. As of Monday, they said they “remain optimistic.”
Still, in addition to the bad and the ugly, there has been some good, positive change affected thanks to the racial reckoning that initially enveloped the United States, however fleeting it may be.
Even as federal elected officials stall their efforts at creating national police reform, some cities and states have taken it upon themselves to create new local laws to reform policing in their communities.
In New York City, for instance, officials have taken steps to reign in misconduct within the infamous NYPD that, it must be reminded, participated in some of the most egregious instances of excessive force the country experienced in the months after Floyd’s murder. The city council voted in March to end qualified immunity, the legal shielding of police officers from personal liability. The vote made New York the first city to do so.
The capital city of Texas banned chokeholds after the Austin City Council voted to end the controversial practice in the weeks after Floyd’s murder. (However, the day after the vote, an officer with the Auston Police Department was filmed kneeling on a teenage protester.)
Similarly, in Utah, on the day after Chauvin was convicted, 12 police reform bills were signed into law, including those that provide for training on de-escalation during an arrest such as people suffering a mental health crisis.
Also drawing on urgency from Floyd’s murder, police recruits in the state of Washington have begun getting trained on how and when to intervene when a fellow officer is committing an act of wrongdoing. Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck as three other Minneapolis police officers — now facing their own felony criminal charges — never once tried to truly stop him.
With that said, it cannot be stressed enough that these provisions are only on a local level and don’t apply nationally. In addition, in most of these legislative efforts, the full slate of proposed bills were not all agreed on and passed, leaving much room for their improvement. But it is a start.
As mentioned up above, like the instance in Austin, police are seemingly undeterred at (or resentful of) the police reform efforts that they also may, ironically, see as an existential threat. As a result, the nation’s police officers have killed hundreds of people of color since Floyd’s murder, USA Today reported. That includes Ma’Khia Bryant, the 16-year-old girl who called the police after she was attacked by bullies in her foster home in Columbus, Ohio — the same city where Casey Goodson Jr. and Andre Hill, two unarmed Black men, were all but executed by city cops.
Bryant was killed on the day of Chauvin’s verdict. A little more than a week earlier, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old unarmed Black father, was shot to death during a traffic stop for a nonviolent violation in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, just a few miles from the courthouse in which Chauvin was being tried.
The hashtags don’t end there, as we can’t forget about Jacob Blake, who in August was shot in the back multiple times at close range by a white police officer who will not face any criminal charges for leaving the Black 29-year-old father paralyzed from the waist down over a nonviolent encounter in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The cycle of the seemingly state-sanctioned slaughter of Black people has basically continued unabated despite — or because of? — Floyd’s murder galvanizing nearly the entire world to protest against police violence.
Can it get any uglier? The sad, unfortunate and conservative answer to that question is quite simply, yes.
A poll released this past weekend found that nearly 70% of Black people in America say their treatment by police has gotten worse since Floyd’s murder. At this rate, what would a similar poll find a year from now?
Change starts with putting laws on the books to prevent, or at least deter, police violence and brutality and excessive force from occurring. If police are finally held accountable for their actions, then perhaps knowing that fate will stop an officer from following through with an act of excessive force. Maybe it will even rot the tree from which all the “bad apples” fall and get mixed up with the healthful ones that contribute to life and not death.
But until a fully encompassing package of police reform legislation is finally passed on a national level, we may never truly know.