OPINION: Black folks want and need good police officers to protect us from criminals, just as all people do. We simply want reforms to weed out the bad cops.
The executive order President Joe Biden issued Wednesday on the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman will help reduce the unjustified use of deadly force and other misconduct by police, without reducing the ability of officers to protect us from criminals.
The president’s executive order sets new standards of conduct for the 100,000 federal law enforcement officers, including banning the use of chokeholds unless deadly force is authorized, restricting the use of no-knock entries, and requiring federal officers to use body cameras to record arrests and searches.
The order also takes many other steps, including: creating anti-bias training for police, incentivizing state and local police departments to make needed reforms, restricting the transfer of military weapons to police departments, creating a federal database of police misconduct, mandating new standards for accrediting law enforcement agencies, and requiring the federal government to issue guidance to state and local governments on best policing practices.
When George Floyd was murdered, millions of people of all races attended protests and the world started to reckon with systemic racism. Black lawmakers played key roles in winning House passage of a much-needed measure backed by President Biden called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act applying to state and local police as well as federal officers. However, Senate Republicans have blocked approval of the bill in their chamber.
The legislation would ban the use of no-knock warrants and chokeholds by police, seek to end religious and racial profiling, make it easier to prosecute police for misconduct, and require police to record many of their actions on body cameras.
Unfortunately, the president doesn’t have the power to make the reforms in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act without the approval of Congress. Biden’s executive order particularly benefits Black people because — as every Black person knows — we are disproportionately the targets of police violence. Tragically, Floyd was one of a long line of Black people killed by police.
From 2015 to May 2022, Black people were shot and killed by police at a rate of 38 per million of our population. Hispanics were fatally shot by police at a rate of 28 per million, whites were killed at a rate of 15 per million, and people of other races were killed at a rate of five per million.
The group Mapping Police Violence (MPV) found that at least 200 Black people in the U.S. were killed by police last year. “Black people account for 27 percent of those killed by police in 2021 (of those whose race is known), despite making up 13 percent of the U.S. population,” Newsweek reported. “Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police, yet 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed compared to white people, according to MPV.”
Biden issued his executive order a day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Texas elementary school, and 11 days after a white supremacist killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. The Texas gunman was killed by officers, while the Buffalo shooter surrendered to police.
We should all be grateful for the brave officers who risked their lives stopping the two shooters before they could kill more people. We need more officers like them. But we should also dedicate ourselves to preventing bad cops from committing crimes like the murder of Floyd and other unjustified use of force.
Fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder for kneeling on the neck of the unarmed and handcuffed Floyd for more than nine minutes, and three officers at the murder scene were convicted of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin. Officers like these should never serve in police departments.
Republicans have falsely portrayed police reform measures supported by Biden and congressional Democrats as being anti-police and endangering public safety, claiming that a large number of Democrats want to defund the police.
In fact, both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have strongly backed increased funding for police. The administration’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year increases federal funding for law enforcement to $50 billion, and Biden has praised state and local governments that have agreed to use at least $10 billion in existing federal aid to increase police department funding.
Nor do most Black people or Democrats support defunding the police. An Ipsos/USA Today poll in March 2021 found that only 18 percent of Black Americans and 34 percent of Democrats favored defunding police departments.
Black folks want and need good police officers to protect us from criminals, just as all people do. We simply want reforms to weed out the bad cops guilty of police brutality, so we don’t have to fear police violence directed against us.
There is nothing inconsistent about supporting the police while wanting to eliminate police misconduct. We all need doctors, but we have laws against medical malpractice. Our children need teachers, but we have laws against child abuse by educators. Members of the clergy, lawyers and people in other professions are also held accountable for misconduct.
Good cops have nothing to fear from Biden’s executive order or from the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. But there’s little chance that Senate Republicans will support the bill. The best hope of turning it into law will come if we can elect more Democrats to the House and Senate in November.
George Floyd is longer here to see the bill bearing his name become law, but enactment of the measure would be a tribute to his memory and to all the other people who have been wrongly killed or mistreated by police. It would show clearly that Black lives matter.