Police Reform Won’t Happen Overnight

The protests that sprang up in the wake of George Floyd’s killing were a response to a horrific event, but people weren’t protesting over just Floyd. The video that showed Chauvin refusing to get off his neck, and his colleagues looking on without intervention, was a watershed moment and even united the country in some respects, at least temporarily.

And now, nearly six years after Eric Garner told cops “I can’t breathe,” and nearly four years after Minneapolis police shot Philando Castile even as he told them he was not reaching for his gun, a consensus is emerging among a broad political spectrum that some sort of structural reform to local policing is necessary. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott introduced the GOP’s police reform legislation, the JUSTICE Act, earlier this week, and the White House has issued an executive order broadly if vaguely encouraging (via funding) “best practices” by local law enforcement and sharing of information nationally on officer misconduct. On the Democratic side, civil rights groups and elected leaders tout the Obama-era Civil Rights Division’s “pattern and practice” consent decrees, which are entered into in federal courts against local police departments, as the kinds of federal intervention to be pursued. 

And of course, on the extreme left the “Defund the Police” slogan has taken hold, albeit without much clarity about what it means. I do have to admit to a bit of schadenfreude watching national Democrats scramble to explain that the words “Defund the Police” don’t mean what they say—that it is just shorthand for “reform the police”—only to be undercut by activists and local liberal politicians in Minneapolis and elsewhere who essentially respond “Hell yeah, that’s exactly what we mean—‘defund the police’ as in eliminate police departments!” But for practical purposes (and despite President Trump’s attempt to hang the “Defund the Police” slogan on Joe Biden, who has rejected it) eliminating police is going nowhere as a national strategy to deal with structural policing reform.

As happens when any public policy issue jumps to the fore in the media, policing reform “hot takes” abound from all quarters. Fox News’s Sean Hannity recently proposed chokehold bans, dash cameras in every squad car, and body cameras on every officer. The Rayshard Brooks shooting at a Wendy’s in Atlanta has half the talking heads on cable discussing “proportionate” use of force policies and objecting to a firearm being used against a suspect who pointed “only” a “nonlethal” Taser at the officer. People with zero law enforcement experience are breaking down the various videos of the Brooks shooting like it is the Zapruder film and confidently opining that “there should be a rule” that at THAT point in the video the officer should have allowed Brooks to run away.

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