Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Power of Protest: A Summary of the Achievements of the BLM Movement

In recent weeks we have seen how mass protest produces results. In response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police we have seen wave after wave of protest.  This mostly peaceful assembly has prompted concrete actions aimed at arresting police violence and racial injustice. Floyd's murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was the catalyst. His murder was the most recent in a seemingly endless succession of African Americans killed by police. Chauvin murdered Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes. "I can't breathe" said Floyd, crying out for his mother before he died. Floyd's experience is not unique, others face the same kinds of deadly abuse by police and not just in America. "Je ne peux pas respirer" ("I can't breathe") were also the last words of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old black man who was killed four years ago by French police in Paris.

Floyd's murder has galvanized widespread support for the plight of African Americans and propelled the Black Lives Matter movement into the mainstream. A broad swath of Americans and people all around the world are calling for an end to racism. There have been rallies and memorials in France, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand.

We have already seen significant changes in policing policy all across the country. State's like New Jersey have said they will update their use of force guidelines for the first time in two decades. In Maryland, a bipartisan work group of state lawmakers announced a police reform work group. However, many want to see national standards in policy, law and training for all of the 18,000 police agencies in the U.S. For the first time in American history these demands seem to have found a political foothold. An unprecedented number of state and local officials support reform including universal standards for reporting police misconduct and abuse. 

Banning choke-holds

Within ten days of Floyd's murder Minneapolis banned the use of choke-holds. More than 20 US cities and municipalities are starting to ban or have banned the use of choke-holds. Those cities include Philadelphia, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, Miami, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, New York City, Denver, Houston and Iowa City. States from Florida to California, have also banned choke-holds and neck restraints. A House Democrat police reform bill seeks to ban choke-holds nationally.  However, it has met with resistance from Republicans, police unions and some local officials.

Ending qualified immunity

The NYPD banned the use of choke-holds in1993. Nonetheless, New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed the most progressive police reform legislative package in the country ending a state statute that hid the disciplinary records of police officers who have histories of abusive behavior. This could have protected Floyd from Chauvin who had 18 prior internal affairs complaints filed against him. The Democrats' bill would create a National Police Misconduct Registry as part of an attempt to dismantle the 40 year old legal doctrine known as "qualified immunity," which shields law enforcement from lawsuits.

Police accountability

Charges against Officer Chauvin were upgraded and his accomplices have been arrested and charged. Seven Los Angeles officers were removed for using excessive force during the protest. Two Buffalo police officers were charged with assault after they fractured the skull of a 75 year old at a demonstration.  Incidents of police brutality have led to the suspensions and firing of officers in cities across the U.S. Most recently NYPD suspended an officer after he was captured on video applying a choke-hold to a black man on a Queens boardwalk.

Reallocating funds (defunding police)

There have also been calls to defund the police, which is a bit of a misnomer because these calls are about replacing police forces or reallocating funds to social programs that deal with problems like mental illness, homelessness and domestic violence. The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a resolution to replace the police department with a community-led public safety system. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would reallocate police department funding to youth and social services. Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti indicated he was going to cut between $100 million and $150 million in proposed LAPD funding. San Francisco Mayor London Breed, is proposing city police officers stop responding to issues like disputes between neighbors, reports about homeless people and school discipline interventions.

Making intervention a duty

The city of Dallas and others have adopted a "duty to intervene" rule that requires officers to stop other cops who are engaging in inappropriate applications of force. The Democrats bill mandates teaching officers about their duty to intervene. It also requires uniformed police officers to wear body cameras and participate in racial bias training.

Social and cultural shifts

As evidenced by both the numbers and the diversity of people that are protesting we may be witnessing a transformational moment. These protests have provoked difficult but important public and private conversations about race and privilege. They have also encouraged people to reflect and this reflection is auguring change as unprecedented numbers of white people are joining people of color and demanding an end to both institutional racism and police brutality. Elected leaders, corporations, sports clubs and other organizations can no longer ignore the issue of racism.

Trump fails to control the narrative

Trump is infamous for ignoring both climate change and Covid-19, but he could not ignore weeks of sustained protests. After initially resisting calls for police reform Trump caved to widespread pressure and announced an executive order (E.O.). However, the reforms offered in Trump's E.O. have been criticized for failing to end qualified immunity and falling short of an outright ban on the use of choke-holds.

Trump is also being criticized for his meddling in the Justice Department. The DOJ has all but abandoned investigations into unconstitutional policing practices. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Tobin said Trump's recent firing of  U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman, "reeks of corruption".

However, no event has attracted more criticism than his forceful removal of peaceful protestors in Lafayette square. Both the military and the clergy distanced themselves from the president and publicly decried being used as props in Trump's bid to get a photo-op. This president came to power by pandering to disenfranchised whites, but as another election draws near people of all races are coming together to call out the systemic racism in Trump's America

The polls suggest that Trump may be on the wrong side of this issue and it is appearing increasingly likely that we will see a new president in the U.S. this fall. Even if Trump can't read the writing on the wall, the message is clear and can be seen and heard on the street in front of the White House. "Black Lives Matter" not just to Americans but to people all around the world. People are coming together to demand an end to police brutality and combat the scourge of racism.

The protests continue in front of the White House, across America and around the world. Trump is calling himself the law and order president and stoking people's fear of the demonstrators. However, most of those involved say they are not trying to start a race war they are peacefully protesting to try to end one.

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