Criminal law

State and local governments must take responsibility for police violence


Last week, the Ministry of Justice issued a a report Finding that the Minneapolis Police Department routinely used excessive force against black and indigenous people, and that the killing of George Floyd arose from this pattern of misconduct. They will now negotiate a consent decree with the City of Minneapolis to make the repairs. The report is damning, and provides insight into the often obscure problem of police violence.

Police violence is common in police departments, and results in trauma, injury, and death in primarily Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities. State and local authorities – who are responsible for most US police services – should not wait for a federal investigation before they address police violence. They can begin now to build interlocking reforms that achieve three main goals: reduce, correct, and repair.

What do we mean by “police violence”? Police violence stems from this country’s history of using the police to oppress marginalized people. The American police has never been a neutral institution. It perpetuates racism and oppression by design. from “slave patrols” To the armed militias that enforced Black and Jim Crow laws, to the police that destroyed labor unions in favor of political elites in the nineteenth century, the police have always been associated with oppression, surveillance, and repression. controls.

Police violence is not limited to killing. It is also the use of excessive force. It’s when the police Throw People in the walls, on the sidewalk, or against cars. It happens when the police punch and kick people lying on the ground. It happens when police pull tasers or shotguns on compliant or disciplined people — a practice documented by the Minneapolis Department of Justice. In tightly policed ​​societies, police violence is like a blazing fire that keeps burning.

When the police kill people, it’s often a bonfire. After a high-profile murder, the responsible police department often faces an investigation that reveals a pattern of abusive and biased practices. Nearly 25 years ago, after NYPD killed Amadou Diallo — an unarmed black man — with a hail of 41 bullets, an investigation by the New York Attorney General found that the NYPD was Stop the alarming numbers of black people without valid reason. In recent years, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police while she was sleeping in her home. that investigation The Department of Justice later found that the Louisville Police Department had a widespread use of excessive force and an “aggressive style of policing” against marginalized people. The Minneapolis report is another example of a long list.

Prohibitions are not enough to solve the problem. When an NYPD officer Eric Garner was killed by strangulation In 2014, chokeholds were illegal in New York. This policy could not save Mr. Garner because the NYPD had pressured officers for years to do so Stop and search vigorously Blacks love him. The NYPD has long had policies regulating the use of force, including A.J an exercise On this topic since 2016. Until now lawsuit One of us sued the NYPD over an incident in 2020 in which officers punched and trampled a 59-year-old black man on the ground while calling him racial slurs. in Another recent caseNYPD officers beat and kicked a 29-year-old Palestinian-American student whose hands were tied behind his back; They pulled his headscarf over his eyes before beating him.

The disconnect between paper and practice results in part from prejudice. It also results from directing officers to engage in abusive tactics; From officers seeing excessive force as condoned, to politically promoting fear of “criminals”. And while we need policies that prohibit excessive force, we also need to dismantle the oppressive and biased police practices that fuel the fire.

This cannot be achieved with one-size-fits-all strategies. Instead, eliminating the conditions that generate police violence requires the implementation of interlocking measures that simultaneously serve three goals: violence reduction, correction, and reform. “Reduce” means reducing our reliance on the police where armed responders are not needed and reducing police discretion in areas where bias and aggression are common, such as stop and search. “Correcting” means creating mechanisms inside and outside the police department to interrupt and prevent police violence, such as civilian review boards with subpoena power and systems that require departments to act on public complaints to ensure accountability and transparency. “Repair” means ensuring that damages caused by police violence are addressed, which includes compensating the injured and enabling the affected community to design accountability and safety measures on their terms.

Examples of changes advancing these goals can be found across the country. Philadelphia Police removed From enforcement of minor traffic offenses like broken taillights that were used unfairly against black people. The NYPD has ordered that complaints against officers be included in an early intervention system that leads to remedial action. Chicago has launched initiatives for Redress for police torture which included payment to victims, education funds for families of victims, and Designed by the community Health supports.

Like James Baldwin He said“Responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be waived. If one refuses to waive, one begins again.” State and local authorities must not abdicate their responsibility to end police violence; they must act now to protect communities.


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