My Turn: Eight policies to address racist policing

For the Monitor
Published: 6/14/2020 6:20:13 AM

Here’s a thought exercise to illustrate how differently white and black people are viewed and treated by police in our country.

In late April, hundreds of people stormed the Michigan capitol building, demanding to be allowed on the floor of the House of Representatives. They were protesting the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. They were also armed, many of them carrying automatic weapons. The state police stood nose to nose with the protesters, preventing them from moving past the lobby of the building. There was no violence between the armed men and the police. No one was arrested. The protesters were white.

What do you think would have happened if those openly armed men who marched into the Michigan capitol had been black? It’s easy to imagine that some would have been arrested and at least one of them would be dead.

Racial disparities in policing aren’t new in our country, but the brutal reality of that disparity was made starkly visible to Americans in the murder of George Floyd.

The police killed 1,098 people in the United States in 2019. Twenty-four percent of them were black, when black people are only 13% of the population. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people, and more likely to be unarmed at the time of their killing.

The numbers in Minneapolis are even more off balance. While 20% of the city’s population is black, over the last 10 years 60% of the victims of Minneapolis police shootings were black, and black residents are 13 times more likely to be killed by police than white residents.

George Floyd’s murder was a tipping point, not only for the black community in Minneapolis, but for people across the country. For the past two weeks Americans have been in the streets, even in the midst of a pandemic, by the hundreds of thousands to say “Enough! Black lives matter.”

The marches and vigils and memorials have been touching, energizing, frightening and empowering. They’ve brought together people of all ages and races and backgrounds, and in some places forged solidarity between protestors and police. This national awakening to the horrific consequences of our country’s history of racism has the possibility of being transformative.

Samuel Sinyangwe of Campaign Zero, an organization with a mission to end police violence, thinks we could be at a turning point. Sinyangwe is a racial justice activist and data scientist, and his research into police violence, and policies that can reduce it, offer a road map for how to bring about needed change. At a time when the country’s attention is focused on police brutality and the too-often tragic consequences for black people, Campaign Zero is ready with research that provides answers about how to make a difference.

Campaign Zero recently launched the 8 Can’t Wait campaign to promote data-driven policy solutions to reduce police violence and increase accountability. Their research suggests that the eight police policies they’re promoting could reduce police violence by up to 72%. It’s not surprising that where municipalities have restricted the use of force by police, fewer civilians are harmed and killed.

The eight policies are straightforward.

■Ban chokeholds and strangleholds, which often result in unnecessary death or serious injury.

■Require police officers to de-escalate situations whenever possible, through communication, maintaining distance and otherwise eliminating the need to use force.

■Require officers to give a verbal warning in all situations before shooting.

■Require police to exhaust all alternatives before using deadly force.

■Establish a duty to intervene that requires police to stop the use of excessive force by another officer and to report these incidents immediately to a supervisor.

■Ban shooting at moving vehicles in all cases, a particularly dangerous and ineffective tactic.

■Establish a use of force continuum that restricts the most severe types of force to extreme situations, and create clear policy restrictions on use of police weapons.

■Require comprehensive reporting by police officers any time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians, including pointing a firearm at someone.

States and cities have acted this month to make changes to police policies, aimed at reducing racist policing and curbing the violence that’s disrupted peaceful protests across the country. The city of Minneapolis has banned the use of chokeholds and required officers to report and intervene if they see an unauthorized use of force by another officer. The city council has pledged to dismantle the police department and create a new system of public safety.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has called on lawmakers to pass a bill that would limit law enforcement’s ability to use force. The New Jersey governor and attorney general announced they will expand the state’s use-of-force database and update its use-of-force policies for the first time in 20 years. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California called for the state’s police training programs to remove the use of neck restraints. Seattle’s police chief banned the use of tear gas on protesters and called for a review of the department’s crowd-control tactics. In Colorado, legislation was introduced this month to prohibit the use of chokeholds.

8 Can’t Wait offers concrete and actionable steps to all of us awakened to and outraged by the harm done to black communities by racist policing. Contact your local city or town officials and ask about the police policies where you live. Talk to your state representatives and senators about possible legislative solutions. Suggest changes based on the research and data that Campaign Zero has made available. Take your energy to city hall and make change happen.

(Grace Mattern is a poet and writer who lives in Northwood.)


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