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The politics of police reform following George Floyd’s murder verdict

  • The New Hampshire State House in Concord on Oct. 4, 2018 Sarah Pearson

Monitor staff
Published: 4/21/2021 5:03:26 PM

Minutes after Derek Chauvin was pronounced guilty of second-degree and third-degree murder in the killing of George Floyd, New Hampshire elected officials from both parties said more work needs to be done.

“Based on overwhelming evidence, I supported charges being brought against Derek Chauvin from the beginning and I am glad justice has prevailed,” Gov. Chris Sununu quickly announced.

However, the state’s top Republican largely stood alone, as GOP leaders in the State House did not echo his words.

“George Floyd should be alive today,” Sununu added, “and while he will sadly never be able to return to his friends and family, we can appreciate that justice through our legal system has been delivered. I join the people of New Hampshire in praying for George Floyd and his family and hope we can heal as a nation.”

The state’s all Democratic Congressional Delegation, didn’t issue any press releases, but sent out short messages on social media.

“Justice has been served, but George Floyd should be alive today,” Shaheen posted on Twitter. “My heart breaks for Mr. Floyd’s family who’ve endured more pain than any family should ever have to. This has been the experience for too many in our communities of color. It has to stop.”

Hassan said the criminal justice system worked as it should.

“While today marks progress, we still have far more work to do to ensure equal justice under the law for all,” she posted.

Last year, Shaheen and Hassan voted against the Justice Act, spearheaded by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s only Black Republican, which offered incentives to police departments to ban chokeholds, provided funds for body cameras, created stricter disclosure requirements about use of force and no-knock warrants, and made lynching a federal hate crime.

One sticking point on federal police reform legislation is the reversal of “qualified immunity,” which prevents officers from being civilly sued for Constitutional violations if their actions do not violate “clearly established” law.

Both Hassan and Shaheen have spoken against revoking qualified immunity.

“I think it has ramifications in terms of being able to recruit and retain law enforcement, to be able to do their jobs,” Shaheen said last year at a press conference where she received the endorsement of the New Hampshire Trooper’s Association.

Hassan warned of similar negative effects.

“There might be some unintended consequences to abolishing qualified immunity entirely,” Hassan said last year, but added the issue was one she was “continuing to evaluate and get feedback on.”

Rep. Annie Kuster has been more out front on the issue, saying Republicans and Democrats should work together on police reform and end qualified immunity.

“I think, really, the police union has made it more controversial,” she said last year.

Sununu’s statement came the day after he drew criticism for saying that New Hampshire does not have systemic racism. Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright, of Nashua, the ranking Democrat on the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, took issue with that assertion.

“Here in New Hampshire, just a day after Governor Sununu wrongly proclaimed that systemic racism does not exist, we know that we have much work to do to reduce the inequities in our criminal justice system that disproportionately target, imprison, and kill people of color,” Harriott-Gathright said.

Harriott-Gathright said the verdict was a “step forward” rather than a victory for the cause of social justice.

“This verdict is a call for accountability in all 50 states and those of us in Concord with the responsibility to shape the law must answer the call. We must continue to move to provide and promote understanding, equity and justice for all,” she said.

Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, a Manchester Democrat, said more work still needs to be done. She said that the verdict “does not erase where we have been, but it is a critical step forward towards what this nation can become.”

“Today, justice prevailed,” Soucy said. “Tonight, tomorrow, and in the days and years to come we must continue to work towards that vision of a just system for every single American.”

What police reform looks like in New Hampshire remains to be seen, after previous calls for systemic reform led to the formation of the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency. However only some of the commission’s recommendations have been implemented thus far and Senate Republicans eliminated a requirement for police to record and report racial data for arrests and traffic stops.

Many activists also called for further action following the guilty verdict for George Floyd’s murder.

“As we take our breath of relief, let us remember that this victory does not equate to a fair and just system,” Black Lives Matter Manchester wrote on an Instagram post following the verdict. “This is not justice – it is accountability. Justice would mean that George Floyd would still be with us today. There is still work to be done.”

Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, this story was corrected to reflect the Justice Act did not include a provision to end qualified immunity.

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