Did George Floyd's death change US policing?

One year after Floyd's death, activists say more needs to be done about aggressive policing in the US

SENSITIVE MATERIAL. THIS IMAGE MAY OFFEND OR DISTURB Louisiana state troopers arrest Ronald Greene May 10, 2019 near Monroe, Louisiana, U.S. in this bodycam footage release May 22, 2021. LOUISIANA STATE POLICE via YOUTUBE/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
SENSITIVE MATERIAL. THIS IMAGE MAY OFFEND OR DISTURB Louisiana state troopers arrest Ronald Greene May 10, 2019 near Monroe, Louisiana, U.S. in this bodycam footage release May 22, 2021. LOUISIANA STATE POLICE via YOUTUBE/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

For nine minutes and 29 seconds, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned George Floyd to the asphalt in front of a grocery shop, his knee slowly digging into Floyd’s neck and extinguishing his life.

The videotaped incident shocked America, caused a wave of global outrage and brought into focus some of the many injustices African Americans face daily from police.

Calls for police reform reverberated from Minneapolis to the US Capitol, where a group of bipartisan members of Congress are striving to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

The bill would ban some chokeholds, including the one used to kill Floyd, and calls for a national registry of police misconduct in a country where officers are given much latitude to use deadly force.

It would also require police to undergo training on racial discrimination, implicit bias and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force.

In the case of Chauvin, who has been fired and convicted of murder, fellow officers stood by as he killed Floyd.

Law enforcement analysts and activists say the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is “admirable” but not enough.

“We need much more fundamental changes across all policing,” said Farhang Heydari, executive director of New York University’s Policing Project, which pushes for greater transparency and accountability.

The Biden administration should appoint a commissioner to ensure federal programmes related to state and local policing adhere to a “consistent” and “cohesive” vision, Mr Heydari said.

Major cities have undertaken reform in response to calls to defund police departments since Floyd’s death.

Most of the country's patchwork of 18,000 police forces fall under city or county jurisdiction.

The city council in Austin, Texas, cut its police budget by 35 per cent for 2021, while in Los Angeles County, officials designated 10 per cent of the general fund to services tackling systemic racism, youth development and community counselling.

In Minneapolis, the city redirected $8 million from its police department to violence prevention and mental health crisis response services.

Cheryl Dorsey spent 20 years working her way up the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department, retiring as a sergeant in 2000.

Ms Dorsey said in the year since Floyd’s death, not enough had been done at the local, state and federal levels to change US policing.

“The things that were occurring prior to Mr Floyd’s televised murder continue to occur,” she told The National.

“We watched a man, for the first time in many of our lives, certainly mine, lose his life on national television.

"It's done little to deter the bad behaviour of police officers across these 18,000 police departments in the United States.”

Ms Dorsey said last month's police killing of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop outside of Minneapolis was proof that not enough had changed.

Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Centre Police Department, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

While there are no centralised government figures on police killings, data compiled by Mapping Police Violence show about a third of those killed by police between 2013 and 2019 were black, while the country's black population is only about 14 per cent.

But police body camera footage and mobile phone video have shifted the perception of US policing, exposing the harsh and frightening realities people of colour often face.

This month, The Associated Press obtained video of the 2019 police killing of Ronald Greene.

Police body-cam footage shows Louisiana State Troopers punching, stunning and dragging Greene as he pleads with them and tells them that he is their “brother".

Initially, police told Greene’s family that he died after his car crashed into a tree during a chase.

Ms Dorsey does not believe rough policing practices will change soon, but described important steps police departments should take, such as scrapping qualified immunity that protects police officers and government officials from civil suits.

“What accountability looks like to me is officers being held personally accountable, because defunding the police department is not going to stop me as a patrol officer," she said.

"I don't care where you reallocate money to, I don't care what agencies you give it to.

“But when you affect my bottom line, my pocketbook, then that will get my attention. And so to that end, qualified immunity must go.”

Mr Heydari said Colorado, the only state to have stripped police of qualified immunity, was an aspirational goal and he would like to see federal action taken.

Since Floyd’s death, activists feel only incremental action has been taken across the 50 US states.

In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee recently signed ambitious police reform legislation that banned the use of chokeholds, neck restraints and warrants that allow police to search a home without knocking.

It also requires officers to intervene if they see colleagues use excessive force. The state has committed to creating an independent office to review the use of deadly force.

New York state also banned chokeholds and repealed an old law that sealed police records of misconduct from the public.

In Massachusetts, the state legislature passed a bill that revoked qualified immunity for officers who were decertified.

While these are important steps, Mr Heydari said more must be done.

“Not enough has changed but we are still in a better place,” he told The National.

“There's been a lot of attention this year. But you know, we're going to need attention on this issue for years to come, for decades to come.”

Updated: May 25, 2021 02:20 PM

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