The Future of Police Reform
Updated: Jan 13
Crowds and police clash after a Donald Trump rally in Phoenix, AZ. (AJ Colores/Unsplash.com)
As the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, among many others sparked a national outrage across the United States and around the world, the issue of police brutality and racism has led to a clamor of police reform across the United States. Although many agree that the current policing system in the United States needs a change, several groups are divided by what reforms should be implemented.
The Beginnings of a Flawed System
For starters, it is crucial to understand exactly why the policing system is in dire need of reform. The issue of racism and violence towards the colored community through law enforcement dates back to the 1600s, in which groups of white men known as slave patrols attacked and hunted down runaway slaves along with the individuals that helped them to escape. In fact, according to historians, much of the present-day police brutality and racism in the United States stemmed from this racist practice and behavior. Likewise, protests and uprisings against police brutality have been around ever since the practice of slave patrolling.
“Everything you can think of that a police officer can do today, they did it,” said Sally Hadden, a history professor at Western Michigan University. According to Hadden, “The biggest thing is that [the slave patrols] were race-focused as opposed to the police today, who should be race-neutral in their enforcement of law.”
Yes, the police today should be race-neutral — unfortunately, that is not always the case. Deeply ingrained in both American law enforcement and culture is the idea of black criminality, which is what author and professor at Harvard Kennedy School Khalil Muhammad defined as a common scenario in which “people are assigned the label of criminal, whether they are guilty or not.” This racialization of crime in the United States is only a fraction of America’s full problem of systemic racism.
Systemic racism is a form of racism that is deeply ingrained in the practices and behaviors of organizations and societies. It can be seen in the practices of schools, banks, the government, and most notably law enforcement. As a result, many disparities and inequalities among targeted racial groups can be seen in housing, employment, education, income, power, etc. Unfortunately, this concept of systemic racism is deeply embedded in American culture and society.
This issue of systemic racism is nothing new to this country, however, it has received a lot more attention and awareness in the past month due to the ever-increasing footage and publication of its effects in law enforcement and criminal justice. Slave-patrolling in the 1600s was one of the many early-encounters that the colored community had with systemic racism, and was one of the most significant factors in shaping the systemic racism that takes place in this country today.
History Repeats Itself
Although there are many other examples of police brutality and systemic racism in this country, among the most significant and most relevant to what is happening today is the 1992 LA Riots that followed the acquittal of the four LAPD officers who were involved in the brutal beating of African American construction worker Rodney King. The riots lasted for five messy and violence-filled days, in which residents took to the streets protesting, looting, fighting, rioting, and destroying property such as liquor stores and restaurants. Similar to the rioting and protesting that occurred following the death of George Floyd, the five days of the LA Riots wasn’t only because of the acquittal of the four officers — it was also due to the long-time issue of systemic racism within Los Angeles Police Department and the United States as a whole that served as the last straw for the community, thus provoking the riots.
Following this incident, more conversation took place surrounding the issue of systemic racism and the American police use of force, since the death of George Floyd reopened the public’s conversation and awareness of this issue, but with dissent from some.
Current Progress of Police Reforms
As of recently, Democrats and Republicans have clashed in their respective versions of police reform.
On the right, the Senate-Republicans GOP introduced a bill known as the Justice Act, which would encourage the ending of chokeholds, increase the requirements for police to assemble use of force reports, and would ban the use of no-knock warrants, which permits law enforcement to enter a property without notification. Additionally, President Trump signed an executive order on police reform, which promotes higher standards in the practices of police departments and de-escalation tactics, along with the banning of chokeholds “except if an officer's life is at risk” according to the president, among other provisions.
Despite covering most of the same content in their bill, Democrats in the Senate blocked the GOP bill from passing, as it was believed to be an insufficient response to the situation. A day after they blocked the Justice Act, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the Democrat-authored bill known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which contains most of the same provisions as the GOP’s Justice Act, but with a complete ban on chokeholds and an end to qualified-immunity — two items that were not included in the Republican bill. Although the bill passed in the House of Representatives, it is unlikely to pass the Senate or the president, since the Senate is controlled by Republicans and the president has already threatened to veto the bill.
With the Republicans’ stalled bill and the Democrats’ version that is unlikely to go forward, the future for police reform in the United States remains unclear. So will anything be accomplished?