How You Can Honor George Floyd's Life With Real Police Reform, Explained

Illustration for article titled How You Can Honor George Floyd's Life With Real Police Reform, Explained
Photo: Stephen Maturen (Getty Images)

A jury found Derek Chauvin guilty. He is going to jail.

Whether or not convicting one man can effect change in the way Black and brown communities are policed is yet to be seen. However, using the momentum of this tragedy to transform the culture of policing does not depend on police chiefs and powerful white men in dark suits. There are ways we can ensure the country doesn’t let this moment pass without meaningful law enforcement reform.

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The Congressional Black Caucus and other lawmakers have identified May 25 as the target date by which they are hoping to pass and deliver the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to President Joe Biden’s desk for the president’s signature. The date coincides with the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder and would be a fitting tribute to his memory and provide access to justice and closure for the families and survivors of police brutality.

To explain how regular citizens can force cities, states and the country to hold police accountable and increase transparency, we put together this handy explainer that answers one of the most frequently asked questions:

“What the hell can I do?”


What the hell can I do?

Something.

Seriously, that’s it. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In fact, everyone doing the same exact thing to affect police reform is less likely to work. If every single American contacted their senator or representative, police chiefs and state legislators wouldn’t feel any pressure to change. If everyone peacefully marched in the streets, Congress wouldn’t feel a direct impact. The only way to make this work is through a diverse effort that affects local, state and federal officials as well as individual decision-makers.

What about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that I keep hearing so much about. Isn’t that the answer?

It would definitely have an impact but it’s only a start.

I knew it! It’s probably some watered-down, performative legislation that won’t make a difference, right?

Actually, it is a pretty good piece of legislation. All legislation requires compromise and this bill is no different. However, the provisions in the proposals would definitely introduce some drastic changes to law enforcement.

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The problem is that Congress is limited in what it can do. Most of the regulations that govern police departments are written on the state and local levels. Congress can issue directives to federal law enforcement agencies. They can also tie the funds they allocate to agencies to compliance with a set of standards they set.

So what exactly does the law do?

There are currently two different bills. One has already passed the House of Representatives and the other is currently working its way through the Senate. The House version was written primarily by Democrats while the Senate version is a work in progress. Staffers from each side previously walked The Root through the intricacies of the two bills, which you can read here.

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Here are some of the bills’ main provisions (and some of the victims of police brutality they may have helped):

  • Raising the standard required to prosecute police officers from “willful” to “reckless” conduct (as in the case of Rekia Boyd).
  • Banning no-knock warrants (like the one that killed Breonna Taylor) during certain hours.
  • Banning chokehold (Eric Garner) by tying agency regulations to federal funds.
  • Make it a federal crime to lie on police reports (As in the case of Laquan McDonald)
  • Eliminate racial and discriminatory profiling (like...everywhere).
  • Reforming the principle of “qualified immunity,” which protects law enforcement officers from being sued in civil courts.
  • Require local and state police agencies to use body cameras and dashcams (Like the ones that caught corrupt cops in Baltimore).
  • Create a national police misconduct database (which may have prevented the death of Tamir Rice).
  • Reduce the militarization of police departments (such as the armed Gestapo that attacked protesters during the George Floyd protests)
  • Deescalation training (which may have saved Daunte Wright’s life).

So what doesn’t the law do?

For a number of complex reasons, Congress can’t dismantle police unions or force them to use their funds to pay civil settlements. Federal investigators also can’t just decide to investigate cases of police brutality if an officer hasn’t broken a federal law or civil rights statute.

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Most of all, the bill doesn’t, nor can it, regulate individual police departments. Those agencies are governed by local and state laws. The proposed legislation mostly uses the power of the purse to force compliance.

So what can I do?

I know you’re tired of hearing this, but you can call or write officials to demand action. However, don’t just contact your federal legislator. Talk to your state and local leaders as well. You can find their contact info here. Even if your elected official doesn’t respond to your pleas, city councils and state representatives actually have more say in policing than federal legislators.

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Also, holla at Sen. Tim Scott (R - SC) here. Even if he doesn’t represent you, he’s heading the Senate GOP’s effort to pass this law.

Tim Scott, bruh?

I know. I know. While some may have their differences with Scott, to his credit, he’s spoken out about police reform more than any other Senator (except maybe Matt Gaetz’s recent anti-police efforts).

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It’s worth a shot.

So, that’s it? Call Tim Scott and send a few emails?

Not at all. You can also use the “Four Ps” approach

What does my cellular company’s pre-paid payment plan have to do with this? I’ve never heard the song “Please Pop that Pu**y for a Playa.” I don’t go to strip clubs. Are you talking about people who poop in public places? I never do that. That’s nasty.

Nah, the four Ps are:

  • Protest: You can also protest in the streets. Protests work. “Breonna’s Law” banned no-knock warrants after protests in Louisville. The NYPD ended qualified immunity after protests. Derek Chauvin might not have been arrested if not for the widespread demonstrations that took place after he murdered George Floyd.
  • Politics: If your elected official doesn’t respond to your requests, vote their ass out! Support candidates who will vote for reform.
  • Pressure: Don’t give unelected officials a pass. Hold your local police and local sheriff’s departments accountable by always reporting misconduct. Film every interaction even if you aren’t involved. Ask your local media outlets why they don’t report on police corruption.
  • Participate: Vote. Show up to your city council meetings. If you can’t donate money to candidates who support police reform, or organizations doing the work on the ground, donate your time. Help register voters and organize on the ground. Pass out flyers and volunteer with campaigns.
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Also, send me a link to that song.

How can you be sure this will work?

I’m not. But we can all see that the current system doesn’t work. How can it hurt?

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On May 25, when Joe Biden signs the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, you’ll be able to–

...pop that pu**y for a real playa!

I was thinking more along the lines of saying: “We did that!” But whatever works for you.

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Wait... I thought you’ve never heard the song?

Are you the police or something?

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.

DISCUSSION

sigmapapi
sigmapapi...(No me importa!)

Decentralization is a direct cause to a lot of the problems we face in this country. Do something for me if you are reading this? Look at the number of law enforcement agencies that exist within your state. Not just police and sheriff. Look at the number of state agencies. It is fucking ridiculous and I was in the game. We have way too many agencies. We have way too many police agencies. The Sheriff should have been abolished a long time ago.

Every little burg has its own department. Every county has a sheriff. Fucking constables still exist. States have state police and highway patrol, alcohol beverage control(yes, that is a state LE agency), SBI, probation/parole, Wildlife, etc. Each one of those agencies has a mission and agenda. Each has their own policies and procedures. There are no national standards for agencies to adhere. The police chief’s and sheriff’s associations have “guidelines”; there is no teeth to force agencies to adhere to those guidelines. It’s political (especially with the sheriff) and it comes from decentralization.

I am not suggesting a nationalized police force. What I am suggesting is national standards that must be followed in order to have your agency accredited.

Examples:

1. Officers must possess a 4-year degree in criminal justice, psychology, or sociology. Research shows that education reduces racial bias.

2. Academies must be nationally accredited and rebuilt from the ground up. Most academies today are Constitution 101 (barely), firearms, self defense, tactical, and liability with a sprinkle of juvenile training, diversity, and conflict management. In other words, here’s your gun, here’s how to shoot, keep it in your holster because the agency won’t back you up coz liability (nod, wink), and go in with force and authority every single time.*

3. Academies must be longer than 6 months. We expect lawyers to go to school for years but an officer, with the ability to legally take a life and deprive freedom, can go through in 6 months.

4. Background investigations are done by a 3rd party with specific focus to psychological evaluations that measure racial/gender bias and temperament.

I have others and they have been discussed. Some are radical and will never see the light of day but most are doable... #1 especially. I have gone on too long too.  I’ll just say that real change is possible if Congress is willing to take the leap.  They are not.  

Let’s just put me in charge of disassembling the nation’s LE and rebuilding it.  

*I have been through two academies and they were a joke.