September 3, 2021 | OPINION | By Andrew Hoffman | Photo by Isaac Yee
Since the murder of George Floyd over a year ago, the United States mainstream was swept into a heated debate about the need for police reform. Some Americans maintain the stance that policing in America is not a broken system and it is, instead, police who are the victims of unfair public backlash.
However, considering data showing that police killings do not correlate with violent crime rates in addition to the significant majority of police precincts that fail to mandate de-escalation training, I will be sidelining this argument for the rest of this article. Rather I hope to provide an update on how policing has changed since the resurgence of Black Lives Matter in the spring and summer of 2020.
It is first important to establish some basic background knowledge of America’s policing system. There is no single federal entity that governs policing in the U.S., meaning the entities that govern policing tend to be various local or citywide police precincts. While there might be some overarching similarities between precincts, this also means differences do occur. In simpler terms, the nature of the relationship between the police precinct in your local town and the community might not necessarily be consistent with national trends.
It is also noteworthy that while the American policing system does not have any federal system that regulates or controls it, the federal government does have the power to influence police precinct policy. For example, the federal government can offer precincts conditional cash grants that naturally, one would expect, shape precinct policy. A quick google search on Federal Police Grants shows the multitude of ways the federal government provides funding for many local policing programs.
With that established, what exactly has changed since George Floyd’s death? It is first important to note that Federal Legislation for the “George Floyd Policing Act” has stalled as of March of this year. This bill bans the usage of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and eliminates qualified immunity for police officers. The thin margin of Democrats who failed to support the bill are likely what caused the bill to stall.
Republicans pitched a contender bill, the JUSTICE Act, which does not eliminate no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and other abusive policing tactics, but rather conditions federal aid to local precincts on their elimination. The JUSTICE Act says nothing on the subject of qualified immunity. Once again, the federal government has failed to use its massive power to shape public policy for the better, and has instead resulted in the responsibility of police reform being allocated to the states.
Responses on the state level have been mixed. Massachusetts, for example, has created committees whose job is to study the effects of policing on Black Americans and disabled people. While such entities have no power to actually change policy, they do provide recommendations. While this is a small step forward, it is far from revolutionary.
Illinois, on the other hand, has removed “use of force” training from its one yearly training, and only mandates the training every three years. While acknowledging the value of both implicit bias and racial ethnic recognition training, the majority of the three years’ training is focused on “hands on, scenario based role-playing.” As police accountability is yet to be achieved, focus on “police training” has largely only been pushed around.
This analysis might seem bleak, but it is in no way labeling the Black Lives Matter push for reform a failure. Across the board, many precincts have been forced to provide clearer public records on the use of force. Additionally, instances of officer misconduct now have to be reported to the state’s attorney general, when officers who have been fired for misconduct would have otherwise been rehired again. These rules might seem like common sense to the average reader, but the fact that it took until last year for these bills to become law just shows how far behind policing in America truly is.
This issue is far from over and it would be disingenuous to claim that America has “fixed” policing. However, we can acknowledge that small victories have been made. Progress is slow and arduous. So please remember that claiming to care about these topics warrants us to keep pushing for reform.