Petition for Amendments to and the Congressional Passage of The Justice in Policing Act
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Following the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers, our fellow Americans are calling for institutional reform of the policing system that would prevent these horrifying instances of police brutality from continuing to take the lives of innocent, unarmed African Americans. Not surprisingly, many are crying for the abolishment of police forces across America. Others have called for the reallocation of resources dedicated to police departments to marginalized communities. Yes, increasing the amount of affordable housing and access to quality education are moves that have been long overdue. However, simply “defunding” them in this sense is a band-aid solution that will do nothing to prevent further murders of African Americans like George Floyd at the hands of racially motivated police officers, whether they are the traditional police or a proposed division of new, compartmentalized law enforcement agencies. Make no mistake—police forces are one of the most essential pillars of our society, but police at the local, state, and federal levels must be held accountable for their future actions.
Recently, House Democrats have introduced The Justice in Policing Act of 2020, a potentially historic bill that attempts to curb police brutality at a federal level via several progressive measures. Creating a federal registry of police misconduct is a brilliant idea. Stopping the use of “no-knock” search warrants in drug cases in the U.S. will help prevent further tragedies such as Breonna Taylor’s death. Changing the federal standard of criminal police behavior from “willful” to acting “knowingly or with reckless disregard” and reforming the doctrine of qualified immunity to be able to more easily prosecute officers in legal and civil settings will allow for more justice to be served. Creating a process for independent investigations into instances of the use of force will help eliminate biased or lenient punishments for convicted officers. Increasing racial bias and implicit bias training will begin to address the issue of the disproportionate amount of African Americans unjustifiably killed by policemen. Classifying lynching as a federal hate crime is a measure long overdue.
Here are 10 necessary amendments to the proposed Justice in Policing Act that would provide additional measures to curb police brutality across the nation:
1. Pass local and state laws that more restrictively govern police officers’ use of force against unarmed, non-violent, and non-resisting individuals. Go beyond banning the use of carotid holds and chokeholds to curb the potential avenues of police brutality on a broader scale.
2. Demilitarize police departments at a federal level. Re-establish the restrictions on the police’s ability to wield and use military equipment against its citizens. Curbing the transfers of military-grade weapons to police forces is not enough.
3. Overhaul the training and evaluation programs for policemen. It takes around 976 hours of training to become a police officer. It takes 1500 hours of training to become a barber. It should not be easier to legally roam the streets armed than it is to give a fade. Increased racial bias and implicit bias training are a step in the right direction. Moreover, dramatically increase de-escalation training and racial education to remove stereotypes. Police officers should be required to have psychological evaluations more than the one time when they are hired. If they do not pass, reassign them to a position where they are not on active duty and enter them into a rehabilitation program.
4. Make body cameras federally required. Strictly penalize police officers for turning their cameras off in the line of duty for all incidents other than accidental malfunctions. Consider the negation of criminal charges or arrests for cases in which the entire interaction cannot be viewed because of missing body camera footage. Increase transparency and, if necessary, release the camera footage to the public directly following arrests in a way that would not compromise the privacy of the officer and suspect.
5. Establish and invest in non-police alternatives in order to strengthen crime prevention and properly handle 911 calls while still retaining police. For instance, send a psychologist to cases of people with mental illness so that incidents like Kenneth Chamberlain’s death are avoided. However, do not compartmentalize these additions and overcomplicate them: a 911 call is already pretty rough, and adding the task of deciding between a multitude of departments is a recipe for disaster for issues that require more rapid responses.
6. Discipline policemen who fail to report their coworkers’ physical, verbal, mental, emotional abuses of suspects and/or violations of Civil Rights—like how a teacher is fired if he or she fails to report suspected cases of child abuse even though they were not directly responsible.
7. Eliminate the police’s legal fallbacks for their actions. Renegotiate the contracts of police unions that exist to defend police officers in their trials for instances of brutality and later rehire them to a different district after they serve time.
8. Revoke the doctrine of “qualified immunity” that protects policemen by preventing them from being sued for violating a plaintiff's rights and shielding them from the legal consequences of their actions in civil court. If this is partially revoked, then policemen and police departments will be held financially liable for their actions and, if they have an extensive record of brutality, become uninsurable and thus unable to police—and unable to commit additional excessive acts of brutality. Simply reforming this doctrine will not do much to dissuade police officers from carrying out atrocities such as the murder of George Floyd.
9. Reform the process by which district and federal judges are appointed and approved. Make it less political so that there is not an imbalance of judges that represent a particular ideology that will lead to insufficient punishments for officers convicted of police brutality.
10. If the Justice Department is unwilling or unable to initiate more investigations of police departments, mandate—not simply create the process for—the hiring of non-police, out-of-county, apolitical organizations to probe complaints of police brutality and conduct independent investigations.
The many instances of police brutality may slowly fade away from the media’s headlines as the years progress, but as Americans, we must refuse to abandon our memory of them so that we may build a safer and more just world for all African Americans tomorrow and in 50 years—a world where Martin Luther King’s dream is finally lived out. We must pass this proposed piece of legislation, along with the necessary amendments, if we ever hope to honor George Floyd’s memory and begin to correct our long-standing systemic racial injustices in order to prevent further deaths of innocent, unarmed African Americans at the hands of racially motivated police officers. Enough is enough.
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