There are so many pathways to erasing racism in our country, with each pathway destined to be a marathon, rather than a sprint, that it can be hard to decide where to focus. At least for now, I’m focusing my energies on police reform since the killing of unarmed black men by white police officers just keeps coming and coming. This is not to diminish the importance of other areas of inherent racism, including but not limited to income inequality, housing discrimination, poor access to health care, employment inequities, and more. As the weeks go by, I will continue to look for, and advocate, multiple paths to solutions.
The need for police reform is essential before any more unarmed black men and women are killed by white police. We need it – and we needed it yesterday and all the yesterdays before.
In the weeks since the murder of George Floyd, may he rest in peace, I’ve learned a lot. I’d like to share what I’ve discovered and some actions you might also take in your own communities.
Support federal legislation
In a quick summary, the Justice in Policing Act (HR 7120) that has been put forth in the House:
- Prohibits federal, state and local governments from discriminatory profiling, and mandates training for all law enforcement officers
- Bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level
- Classifies lynching as a federal crime
- Mandates the use of body and dashboard cameras
- Establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry to increase accountability
- Limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement
- Reforms qualified immunity
- Creates law enforcement development and training programs
One action we can take to support this legislation, is to write to our legislators and let them know we support this bill. Ask friends and family members to do the same.
As of the writing of this newsletter, there are two different versions of police reform bills proposed in the House. While there are similarities, there are also some differences. Please study both bills, and write to your representatives (and your senators) letting them know you support the bill or, if not, what you want to see in the bill.
I hope that the House will introduce and pass sweeping police reform. We still don’t know if such legislation will pass the Senate. If it does, then the questions of implementation will arise and implementation is always done at the state and local levels.
In the meantime, here are some additional thought starters for you:
Advocate for de-escalation training
If you go to this site, you will find that 34 states do not have de-escalation training for their police officers. You can find out if your state is one of them and lobby your state and local legislators to add de-escalation training to their police force.
I live in Maryland and it seems from my initial research that the Maryland Dept. of Public Safety and Correctional Services does not require de-escalation training for the various police departments throughout the state. I’ve begun advocating to create and enforce such a policy.
Investigate Police Policies in your Jurisdiction
Look at the website of the Police Department for your jurisdiction. If it does not answer these questions, find out who can answer the questions. Write to your mayor, your city council, your county commission, and/or your police chief. But get answers. There is little change without knowledge and information.
- What are the body-worn camera (BWC) policies for your police officers? (e.g., when is recording mandatory vs discretionary? What is the policy for disseminating and retaining these recordings? etc.)
- Do your state and local jurisdictions ban chokeholds (Maryland, my state, currently does not although there is pressure on our governor to order such a ban.)
- Are officers required to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives before resorting to deadly force?
- Does your jurisdiction have a policy requiring officers to intervene when witnessing another officer using unreasonable force?
- What are the disciplinary measures taken if police officers violate this (or other) policies?
- How long does it take for the names of both the officer(s) involved and victim(s) to be released after a deadly force incident?
- What is the recruitment procedure for police officers in your jurisdiction?
- What is the recruitment procedure for selecting the Chief of Police? (In my county, the candidates are vetted by the County Commissioner and passed to the County Commission for approval. Of course the County Commissioner is an elected official, as are the county commissioners.)
- What is included in the training for prospective police officers? How much time is spent on each subject? (e.g., is more time spent on firearms training than on inherent biases training or de-escalation training?)
- What is done to determine the inherent biases of prospective police officers?
- Who has the answers to these questions? Where can the answers to these questions be found?
Once you have the answers, begin to advocate for police reform with your local legislators, police organizations, state officials and others who can influence the changing of policies. Write letters, make telephone calls, attend meetings, speak up. I have learned that silence hurts.
Here is a link to a study conducted by the Police Use of Force Project which found that police use of force policies currently lack basic protections against police violence.
The group reviewed the use of force policies of America's 100 largest city police departments to determine whether they include meaningful protections against police violence. Their study results are astounding.
Campaign Zero offers specific policy solutions that can restrict police from using excessive force in everyday interactions with civilians. This link provides a model “Use of Force Policy” that can be implemented at state and local levels.
How do we ensure more transparency from Police Departments for investigations into police brutality? Right now, most police investigations are internal. Results are not public. After most incidents of police brutality, the public never learns the consequences to the police officer of the internal investigation. This breaks down trust in the very men and women who are sworn to protect us.
Advocate for increased transparency.
Take local action
On June 16th, President Trump signed an Executive Order on policing. The text of that Executive Order is available online at:
While this Executive Order can be seen as a step in the right direction, there are limits to its usefulness. First, it remains to be seen if it has the force of law behind it. And second, and most important, only federal agencies are under the control of the President. Since the Constitution does not give the President authority over state and local police forces, changes at the state and local levels still need to be taken.
Learn about your elected officials
Many local, state and federal officials are up for election or re-election this fall. Where do your state and local candidates stand on police reform, and on erasing racist policies and policies that disadvantage people of color? Study their platforms. Read their websites. Listen to their speeches. Ask questions. And then use your voice as an informed citizen at the polls in November.
It is time for all of us to remember that the first of the unalienable rights guaranteed to all Americans by our Declaration of Independence is: LIFE.