(June 6, 2020) — Late last week Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said that outrage at the murder of George Floyd “may be an inflection point.”
That’s when I thought to myself, “I hope he’s right. I hope this is an inflection point. But, inexplicably, it never is. It wasn’t after Michael Brown, or after Trayvon Martin, or Philando Castile, or Ahmaud Arbery.
Then a few things happened. Demonstrations across the country continued to increase in size and number, showing that an incredibly diverse and growing number of Americans are, yes, angry, but also deadly serious and not going away.
Then came the president’s insane photo op and the indictments of the three Minneapolis police officers who abetted Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd. Americans began to feel that justice might actually be served this time. The demonstrations swelled yet again across the nation.
It’s beginning to look as if this might actually be an inflection point after all. But real, nationwide reform will be possible only if Democrats beat Donald Trump and his enablers in the Senate. If Democrats win both the White House and the Senate, Americans will expect them to comprehensively take on the brutalization of people of color that has been an unrelenting part our country’s history.
These are just some of the elements of reform that I would propose that Democrats take up in the first 100 days:
- A National Use-of-Force Standard — Here’s a shocking fact: We do not know how many Americans are killed every year by police. As of today, agencies representing only 40% of law enforcement officers report data to the National Use-of-Force Data Base. The day Joe Biden is sworn in, Congress needs to pass and the president sign legislation requiring every law enforcement agency in the country to report its data. The same day Biden should appoint a commission to study the data with the goal of writing a National-Use-of-Force Standard. Police forces that do not meet the standard must then be required to sign onto a consent-decree with the federal government like the dozen or so that the Obama Administration enforced in places like Ferguson.
- Consent Decrees — The Obama Administration entered into fifteen consent decree agreements with law enforcement agencies that had been using excessive force. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ last act going out the door was to make it far more difficult for the Justice Department to enter into and enforce consent decrees with police departments that have a record of bad behavior. The new AG should reverse Sessions’ final order on Day One.
- Make it Easier to Get Rid of Bad Cops — Police have an essential and enormously difficult job. It is in the public’s interest that police be able to organize and bargain for their salaries and benefits. But too often police unions have used their strong negotiating position to make it harder to get rid of bad cops like Derek Chauvin who have an extensive history of excessively violent, racist behavior. Local independent review boards need the authority to override the unions to get rid of the Derek Chauvins. And those officers should not be able simply to move on to another police department in a separate jurisdiction where they can continue terrorizing members of that community.
- Training — In the Senate I led efforts to reauthorize and fund Crisis Intervention Training, which teaches police and corrections officers to recognize and successfully manage situations fueled by mental illness. A crucial piece of CIT is De-Escalation Training. After Miami Dade County adopted CIT training for each and every cop, police shootings plummeted from an average of two per month to a total of six over the next eight years. That’s not only saved lives. It has saved Miami taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and improved bond ratings. And yet, four Republican senators (Coburn, Lee, Lankford, and Cruz) each placed holds on my bill to reduce the $25 million authorization I was seeking. (I tricked them and got it passed in an omnibus bill at a higher authorization.)
- Implicit Bias Training — This training is designed to expose people to their own unconscious biases. We all have them. For example, I think Jews are, on average, funnier than non-Jews like Coburn, Lee, Lankford, and Cruz. See what I did there? Police officers really need to be exposed to their own implicit biases and be given the tools to adjust their unconscious patterns of thinking and eliminate, or at least reduce, their own discriminatory behaviors. Implicit Bias Training has been proven to be more effective than giving police departments armored vehicles.
- Reform Qualified Immunity — Qualified immunity is a legal concept that protects public officials from being sued by civilians who have been harmed by their actions. It serves the purpose of allowing government officials to carry out their duties without fear of constantly being harassed by lawsuits. But in practice it can give sweeping legal immunity to officials (say, cops) who can inflict violence on citizens and even take their lives. Because of a few Supreme Court decisions, the balance has swung in the direction of providing protection to some bad actors. Congress has the power to change that. And it should.
Earlier this week, Terrence Floyd wiped away tears as he spoke to a crowd gathered at the site of his brother’s murder. Hate and destruction, he implored them, “won’t bring my brother back.” The crowd roared. “Let’s do this another way,” he shouted. “Let’s stop thinking that our voice don’t matter, and vote.” Another roar. “Educate yourself…Educate yourself and know who you’re voting for. And that’s how we’re going to hit them, because it’s a lot of us. It’s a lot of us.”
Donald Trump didn’t count on Terrence Floyd. He didn’t count on the millions of peaceful protesters, mostly young people — African American, Latino, Native American, Asian-American, and White Americans. They, like George Floyd’s brother, Terrence, have taken the lead. Let’s follow through — past November. And to a more just and joyful future.
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