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Demonstrators Worldwide Demand Police Reform

Demonstrators around the world are taking to the streets in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and police reform in the United States.

The toll of two crises coming together—the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racism that disproportionately impact African Americans in the United States—has caused thousands of people to take action to demand change after George Floyd was killed during an arrest by Minneapolis police officers.

“It was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd,” said Benjamin Crump, civil rights lawyer representing the Floyd family, in an interview with The New York Times (an autopsy found that Floyd tested positive for COVID-19, but it was not the cause of his death). “It was the other pandemic we’re all too familiar with in America—it was that pandemic of racism and discrimination that killed George Floyd.”

All of the former police officers allegedly involved in Floyd’s murder have been arrested and charged: Derek Chauvin with second-degree murder and manslaughter; and Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Keung, and Tou Thao with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Now that those officers have been charged, there is renewed pressure to charge the police officers for the death of Breonna Taylor—an EMT who was asleep in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, when plainclothes police officers entered her apartment in an attempted drug sting and shot her eight times. Taylor died from her injuries and her boyfriend, who was also at her home, was injured.

The officers were at Taylor’s home executing a no-knock search warrant for a man suspected of involvement in a drug ring; the man had no known relationship to Taylor and was not present at her home when the shooting occurred.

Along with bringing charges against specific officers, demonstrators in nearly all 50 U.S. states, Australia, Germany, and more have taken to the streets to demand overarching police reform to prevent future deaths and hold police accountable for the ones that do occur.

“A recent analysis by the advocacy group Mapping Police Violence found that 99 percent of police killings from 2013 to 2019 did not result in officers even being charged with a crime,” according to Vox. “A recent study by researchers at Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and Washington University in St. Louis…found black men have a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police.”

Measures demanded for reform include prohibiting the use of chokeholds and restraints against an individual’s neck in the course of an arrest—like the tactic that caused Floyd’s death. Other proposals include more body camera requirements, prohibitions on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, and reforms for how police unions negotiate contracts to protect officers who engage in misconduct.

Minneapolis is one city where the contracts in place hamper the city and the police department’s ability to fire officers who engage in misconduct, said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey in an interview with The New York Times podcast “The Daily.” In the interview, Frey explained how he has worked with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to bring in new officers who can change the culture of the police department, but that their hands are often tied when it comes to removing police officers who do not believe in the need for that cultural change.

“The elephant in the room with regard to police reform is the police union,” Frey said. “The elephant in the room with regard to making the changes necessary to combat the institutionalized racism—and have a full-on culture shift—is the police union, the contract associated with that union, and then the arbitration that ultimately is necessary. It sets up a system where we have difficulty both disciplining and terminating officers who have done wrong.”

To further probe some of these issues and address the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department, Minnesota Governor Tom Walz announced the state would begin a civil rights investigation to root out “systemic racism that is generations deep.”

The investigation, according to NBC News, will examine the department's policies, procedures, and practices over the last 10 years to determine if it has utilized systemic discriminatory practices towards people of color.

In other cities, protestors have been calling for the defunding of police departments and budget changes to limit the overarching role officers play in the community. Funds traditionally reserved for law enforcement would go instead to other initiatives to support the health and economy of communities without police involvement, according to Newsweek.

Los Angeles is one major city that is taking steps to redistribute funds away from law enforcement. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced earlier this week that he would not add $100 to $150 million to the Los Angeles Police Department’s budget for 2020-2021. Garcetti also said he would be looking to cut an additional $250 million from the LAPD’s budget, devoting those funds instead to education, health, and jobs in Los Angeles’ black communities.

“We need to make sure that black Americans see an end to the days of murder in broad daylight and of traffic stops simply because of the color of their skin,” Garcetti said, according to NPR.

Similar demands for police reform are coming from Washington, D.C., demonstrators, and the D.C. Council is planning to address emergency legislation on the issue next week. A draft bill from Council Member Charles Allen would ban neck restraints and chokeholds, require education for officers on racism, and require public release of footage form body cameras.

The bill would require “the release of body-worn footage and the name of any officer involved within 72 hours of a deadly shooting or serious use of force,” according to DCist. “It would also prohibit officers from viewing body-worn camera footage when preparing incident reports and give the D.C. Council more authority to obtain footage for its own investigations.”

Another bill by Council Member Brianne Nadeau would prevent D.C. police from using tear gas to disperse protestors.

At the national level, U.S. House of Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Justin Amash (L-MI) introduced the Ending Qualified Immunity Act to end qualified immunity and aid Americans’ efforts to obtain relief when state and local officials—including police officers—violate their constitutional rights.

“Qualified immunity protects police and other officials from consequences even for horrific rights abuses,” Amash said in a statement. “It prevents accountability for the ‘bad apples’ and undermines the public’s faith in law enforcement. It’s at odds with the text of the law and the intent of Congress, and it ultimately leaves Americans’ rights without appropriate protection. Members of Congress have a duty to ensure government officials can be held accountable for violating Americans’ rights, and ending qualified immunity is a crucial part of that.”

The bill has the support of a variety of cosponsors in the House and is endorsed by numerous civil society groups, including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the Constitutional Accountability Center.