In the last two weeks, the United States has seen some of the most widespread protests in its history in response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. In addition to growing awareness, which is in itself a victory, there are many concrete changes that have already happened as a result of the current movement. Here are just a few of those major changes, with many more to come.
Police department reform
“Defund the Police” has become a popular rallying cry over the past few weeks. Although calls to defund the police are vague, and could ultimately result in a wide range of reform measures, some cities around the country have already taken steps to reallocate police funding.
In Minneapolis, the City Council announced its intention to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and reevaluate how the city handles emergency response and public safety. While an exact path forward hasn’t yet been defined, Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender told The Appeal, “Our commitment is to end our city’s toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, to end policing as we know it, and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.” Multiple organizations in Minneapolis, including public schools, museums, and venues, will also be ending their collaborations with the police department.
In New York, mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to cut funding to the NYPD and reallocate part of the department’s $6 billion annual budget to youth and social services. Although the exact amount hasn’t yet been determined, de Blasio said the decision would be made by July 1. The mayor also announced his support for reforming a law that keeps police disciplinary records confidential, which would mean greater transparency in the police force.
— City of New York (@nycgov) June 7, 2020
Los Angeles has already announced a major cut to local law enforcement, axing $100 to $150 million from the proposed budget. The money from the cuts will be reinvested in black communities and communities of color, specifically toward youth jobs, health initiatives, and trauma centers. Money will also be allocated toward those who have been victims of discrimination, as a form of reparation. California governor Gavin Newsom has also ordered state police to stop training officers to use potentially lethal choke-holds called “carotid holds.”
On June 9, the Memphis, TN, police department introduced a new policy on warning officers that they would face consequences if they don’t attempt to stop colleagues engaged in misconduct.
In Kansas City, MO, the mayor committed to having an outside agency review every local police shooting.
In Louisville, KY, no-knock warrants have been banned in a new law named after Breonna Taylor. Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her home by Louisville police in March after they used a no-knock search warrant. The new law prohibits police from using no-knock warrants except in cases of “imminent threat of harm or death,” and only severe offenses like murder and kidnapping, sexual trafficking, etc. Breonna’s Law will also require police officers to wear body cameras when serving warrants.
One of the major difficulties facing police reform has been the power and influence of police unions. Now, officials are finally looking to hold those unions accountable. Politicians — particularly district attorneys — are being pressured to renounce campaign contributions from organizations that represent police officers. According to CNN, in New York, over a dozen public officials promised to donate contributions from police-affiliated groups to bail funds or criminal justice reform organizations. District attorneys in the California Bay Area have similarly called on the state to ban political contributions from law enforcement organizations, and several politicians have promised to donate any past contributions.
On June 8, congressional Democrats took a step toward preventing the kind of tactics that led to George Floyd’s death. Proposed legislation would ban neck holds, require federal officers to wear body cameras, and increase independent oversight over departments.
One of the biggest issues facing our justice system is the failure to prosecute police officers. Following the protests in recent weeks, district attorneys like LA’s Jackie Lacey and NYC’s Cyrus Vance Jr. have committed to prosecuting police who used excessive force against protestors while also vowing not to press charges against protesters for minor infractions. In Buffalo, New York, two officers were charged with second-degree assault for excessive force against a 75-year-old man. And in Philadelphia, an officer was charged with aggravated assault after beating a protester with a baton.
Perhaps the most important (and immediate) result of the protests has been securing criminal charges for George Floyd’s murderer. Following the protests, charges for officer Derek Chauvin were upgraded from third-degree murder to second-degree murder, and the other three officers involved were also charged.
Racist statues removed
Cities that had previously been reluctant to remove statues of racist historical figures are now facing increased pressure to remove them — and it’s working.
In Philadelphia, the city removed a statue of Frank Rizzo, a racist former police commissioner. The statue had been slated for removal for three years, but when protesters attempted to light it on fire and tear it down using a rope, it prompted the city to finally take steps to tear it down.
In Birmingham, two statues — one commemorating Confederate troops and another celebrating a Confederate officer — were taken down. It only happened after an Egyptologist tweeted instructions for how to tear down an obelisk and suggested that Birmingham residents apply the instructions to the local statues. The crowd took the hint, using ropes to try to tear down one of the statues, but the city’s mayor finished the job for them.
Richmond, Virginia, may also see the removal of one of its most recognizable monuments. A giant statue of Robert E. Lee is now slated to be removed from its visible location on Monument Avenue and placed in storage. Protesters covered the statue in graffiti last weekend, and on Thursday, Richmond mayor Levar Stoney announced the statue’s removal.
Statues aren’t just falling in the US, but around the world too. In Bristol, UK, a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was torn down by protesters with ropes.
Editor’s note: This story is developing, and more changes will be added as the days progress.
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