KEY POINTS

  • George Floyd's death served as the catalyst for the most recent wave of reforms and proposals to address police brutality and systemic racism
  • While cities and states across the U.S. have been quick to implement some changes, it appears Congress may get bogged down in debate with competing reform bills
  • The Black Lives Matter movement has chosen to rally around "Defund the Police" in the hopes of reducing massive police budgets and redistributing the funds into other areas such as mental health care and housing

In the wake of George Floyd’s Memorial Day death at the hands of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, police reform erupted as a major issue amid protests by Black Lives Matter demonstrators and other civil rights groups, demanding something be done to address police brutality and systemic racism across the U.S.

What followed were various proposals at the federal, state and local levels, from banning select means of detainment to creating a database to track all “bad” officers.

It does raise the question: How much could these reforms really change policing in the U.S.?

The question is worth asking because of the ongoing debate on Capitol Hill over how to go about addressing police brutality and systemic racism. It can be seen in the competing bills introduced by Congressional Democrats and Republicans.

The Democrats’ bill, sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The bill would ban the use of police chokeholds, make lynching a federal crime, eliminate no-knock warrants in drug cases, require bodycams at all times, and create a federal registry for officers accused of misconduct.

“This is one of these time periods in history where the door is open a little bit, and we absolutely have to rush through,” Bass told the committee Wednesday. “People are protesting every day, and I feel as though we have got to deliver.”

By contrast, the proposal unveiled by Senate Republicans is much narrower and far less aggressive. Crafted by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, the proposal echoes the language from President Trump’s executive order, discouraging -- but not prohibiting -- the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants. Federal grant money would be used as the proverbial “carrot” to encourage police to report or ban all such uses.

“We find ourselves at a place with a package that I think speaks to the families that I spoke with yesterday that lost loved ones, we hear you,” Scott told the Senate on Wednesday. “I think this package speaks very clearly to the young person who is concerned when he's stopped by the law enforcement officers, we see you.”

While the House and Senate continue debating reform at the national level, several reforms already have been adopted at the local level. One of the most noteworthy was the passing of “Breonna’s Law” in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 11.

Named for Breonna Taylor, a local EMT who was killed as police executed a no-knock warrant on her apartment on March 13 as part of a drug investigation, the law bans the use of no-knock warrants in the city. It was passed unanimously by the Louisville Metro Council and met with cheers from protesters present for the vote.

“I’m proud to be a Louisvillian,” Councilwoman Jessica Green told reporters. “This is probably the proudest moment I have had as a member of this council. So, it’s a good day to be a Louisvillain. The entire world is watching us.”

The law’s passage intensified calls for an investigation into Breonna Taylor’s death and the officers involved. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron assured Taylor’s family and protesters at a Thursday press conference his office was committed and would conduct a thorough investigation into the shooting.

“We are working around the clock to follow the law to the truth,” Cameron said. “I'd also like to say to all those involved in this case, you have my commitment that our office is undertaking a thorough and fair investigation.”

The cheers in Louisville contrast with a sense of frustration in Chicago for its failure to implement police reforms ordered nearly a year ago. Despite ongoing protests and an aggressive front put up by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a report filed Thursday said the city failed to meet 70% of deadlines in the court-ordered reform plan issued in 2019.

Independent watchdog Maggie Hickey’s findings covered deadlines set between September 2019 and February 2020. Missed deadlines included the Chicago Police Department's failure to implement a policy prohibiting officers from dropping people off in rival gang territory, failure to create policy prohibiting sexual misconduct by officers, and failure to collect and analyze 911 calls for mental health crises.

“The recent grief, outrage, protest, and unrest spurred by the tragic death of George Floyd demonstrate the urgent need for police reform across the country and here in Chicago,” Hickey said in a public statement. “It is my hope that the current momentum around police accountability will inspire the city and the CPD to accelerate its efforts.”

The Illinois attorney general’s office was less gracious in its language.

“The city and CPD have also failed to demonstrate a commitment to culture change in use of force and transparency,” Shareese Pryor, chief of the attorney general’s civil rights division, said in Thursday’s court filing. “They have failed to meaningfully engage community members in policy development, training, and policing strategies. And the city and CPD have done little to reform the city’s largely ineffective police accountability system.”

The reforms were ordered in the wake of the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was shot 16 times as he walked away from police. Former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke is serving a nearly seven-year prison term for second-degree murder.

Floyd-inspired protests have featured calls to “defund the police,” an idea that became the rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the aggressive and simple wording has made it an easy target for critics, especially from conservative networks like Fox News and One America News.

“Defund the police” does not actually mean eliminating police forces. Instead, police budgets would be scaled back, with the “excess” funding diverted to community housing, education and mental health. Supporters argue this would provide struggling communities with the infrastructure and support desperately needed.

In turn, it would ease the burden placed on police to answer calls officers may not be equipped or qualified to handle.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who is one of the most vocal supporters in Congress of the idea, was asked on Instagram about what America would look like with defunded police. She compared it to affluent and peaceful suburbs where residents choose to fund “resources to support healthy society in a way that reduces crime.”

“When a teenager or preteen does something harmful in a suburb (I say teen bc this is often where lifelong carceral cycles begin for Black and Brown communities), White communities bend over backwards to find alternatives to incarceration for their loved ones to "protect their future," like community service or rehab or restorative measures,” Cortez said.

“Why don't we treat Black and Brown people the same way?”

Keedron Bryant first posted the acapella gospel song on his Instagram account on May 26, the day after George Floyd was killed Keedron Bryant first posted the acapella gospel song on his Instagram account on May 26, the day after George Floyd was killed Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Jeenah Moon