“And that brings me to the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that America witnessed during which an American man was tortured and killed under the knee of an armed and uniformed police officer. People around our country of every age, of every color, of every gender stood shoulder to shoulder fighting for justice under the law … Bad cops are bad for good cops. We need reform of our policing in America and our criminal justice system.”—Vice President Kamala Harris
In the eight and a half months since the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, police have fatally shot eight unarmed Black men.
I had to consult a database compiled by The Washington Post for that information, because the federal government does not compile it, as would be required under the Act.
That figure doesn’t count people whom police killed by means other than shooting, such as George Floyd himself. Former officer Derrick Chauvin cut off Floyd’s blood flow and breathing as knelt with his weight on Floyd’s neck. He will stand trial for murder in state court next month.
Nor does that figure count people who were killed by self-appointed vigilantes whom law enforcement didn’t even bother to investigate until public outcry forced their hands – people like Ahmaud Arbery, gunned down for the crime of jogging while Black, or Trayvon Martin, executed for wearing a hoodie.
Nor does it count people who were injured, but not killed, by unjustified use of excessive force by police – people like Jacob Blake, left partially paralyzed after police shot him in the back as he tried to enter his car.
The U.S. Department of Justice has empaneled a grand jury and called new witnesses in Floyd’s death, the New York Times reported this week. But the department almost never charges police in excessive force cases because it must prove an officer “willfully” deprived a person of their civil rights – a nearly impossible burden. Under the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a prosecutor would have to prove an officer acted “recklessly” – a much more reasonable standard.
The millions of Americans who rose up to protest after seeing the video of George Floyd’s brutal death were as horrified by the casual expression of disdain on Chauvin’s face as they were by Floyd’s desperate screams of agony. Chauvin had no expectation he’d face consequences for his cruelty. In 19 years on the force, he’d had 18 conduct complaints filed against him. Only two resulted in any kind of discipline.
We don’t know the details of the complaints, or of the disciplinary action, only that he remained on the job. That’s not unusual. Of 323,000 accusations of misconduct against current and former New York City police officers that were made public in August, only three percent resulted in a penalty for the officers. Of the 81,550 officers named in the complaints, only 12 were terminated.
In the 2020 presidential election, voters had a choice between a candidate who promoted police brutality and excessive force, and one who condemned it. Donald Trump, who famously urged police, “Please don’t be too nice” when making arrests, curtailed the pursuit of consent decrees used to reform police departments that have demonstrated a pattern and practice of racial discrimination and misconduct. Joe Biden promised to reverse this policy. Donald Trump called activists who knelt in protest of racism “sons of bitches.” Joe Biden knelt alongside them.
The voters overwhelmingly chose justice over brutality.
Public support for the reforms addressed in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act ranges from 74% in favor of banning chokeholds to 91% in favor of requiring body cameras for all civilian interactions.
It could not be any clearer that Americans want police reform. Americans voted for police reform. Americans are demanding police reform. It should not have taken this long to achieve. Congress must pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act now.
Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League.