From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The George Floyd Killing in Minneapolis Exposes the Failures of Police Reform
Date June 1, 2020 4:05 AM
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[My fear is that we will settle for something that looks like
justice but won’t change our future] [[link removed]]

THE GEORGE FLOYD KILLING IN MINNEAPOLIS EXPOSES THE FAILURES OF
POLICE REFORM   [[link removed]]

 

Alice Speri, Alleen Brown, Mara Hvistendahl
May 29, 2020
The Intercept
[[link removed]]


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_ My fear is that we will settle for something that looks like
justice but won’t change our future _

Protesters demonstrate against the killing of George Floyd outside
the 3rd Police Precinct on May 26, 2020, in Minneapolis., Stephen
Maturen/Getty Images)

 

AS PROTESTS OVER the police killing of George Floyd engulfed
Minneapolis for a third night on Thursday, and solidarity protests
broke out in cities across the country, there was both a sense that
the country had been through this before — too many times — and
that the stakes had begun to shift.

In the Twin Cities, where Floyd’s killing at the hands of officer
Derek Chauvin was just the latest in a series of high-profile police
killings in the last five years, those who took to the streets in the
middle of a coronavirus pandemic were tired and exasperated. Years of
misconduct and brutality by local police had brought many protests and
much talk of reform. But Floyd’s death was an urgent reminder that
here, as across the country, police reform had failed, and that the
time had come for something different.

“They call for training, but are they doing the training, and is the
training being internalized?” said Moriah Stephens, a special
education teacher, as she stood near a highway overpass in St. Louis
Park, the suburb where Floyd had lived, waving as passing cars honked
in support. “I can tell you 50 times over that my life matters and
I would like you to speak out about the fact that my life matters, and
you can hear me say that 50 times, but are you going to do it?”

“I’m tired of being angry, and I’m tired of being tired, and
I’m tired of seeing new hashtags,” she added, referring to a
recent wave of police killings and other racist incidents across the
country. “I’m lucky I’m alive. I can stand here. I can shout.
There’s part of me that’s like, I need to use what I have — I
have my life and I need to use it, but I’m also tired of doing
that.”

Stephens, who had joined protests after the police killings of
Philando Castile in a Minneapolis suburb in 2016, said her father was
currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment. She was reluctant to go
out in the middle of a Covid-19 outbreak that had already
taken nearly 1,000 lives in Minnesota, and like many protesters was
wearing a mask and standing at a distance from others. “I’m not
supposed to be around people. But that’s where I’m at.”

In Floyd’s neighborhood, the signs people carried recalled protests
following earlier police killings while also raising new demands. They
said “I can’t breathe” — George Floyd’s last words as
Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than seven minutes, but also the
last words of Eric Garner, who was killed six years ago by a New York
police officer, igniting a movement against police violence of which
Floyd’s death is just the latest chapter. After Garner’s death, as
after the death of Michael Brown the same year in Ferguson, Missouri,
and those of scores of other black men and women killed by police
since then, protesters called for the officers to be held accountable.
But there were new calls at Thursday’s protests — such as “Fund
Community Not Police” — that tapped into a more recent
and growing movement
[[link removed]] demanding not
so much police reform and accountability as abolition, through the
defunding of police departments.

“In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by MPD officer Derek
Chauvin, and the Minneapolis Police Department’s escalated violence
against the city’s grieving Black community, Minneapolis is in
desperate need of visionary leadership,” the Minneapolis group
Reclaim the Block wrote in a statement
[[link removed]] calling
on the city council to defund the police department. “Now is the
time to invest in a safe, liberated future for our city. We can’t
afford to keep funding MPD’s attacks on Black lives.”

There were signs some local leaders were starting to see it the same
way. Under pressure from students, the University of
Minnesota announced this week
[[link removed]] that
it would scale back its contract with the Minneapolis Police
Department. The University of Minnesota was the first public
institution to cut ties with MPD after the killing of George Floyd. On
Friday afternoon, Minneapolis public schools board members issued a
resolution to terminate the school district’s contract with the
Minneapolis Police Department. And protesters called for more action
to curtail the role of police altogether.

“The system is not broken. It’s doing exactly what it
was designed to do
[[link removed]];
that’s what people need to wrap their heads around,” said Imani
Jackson, who grew up in St. Louis Park. “We need to create an
entire new one.”

Reform Is Not the Answer

In the hours immediately after Floyd’s death, it was clear that the
national conversation around police violence, set in motion by the
killings of Brown and Garner in 2014, had finally begun to change.
Chauvin, as well as three officers who had stood by without
intervening as he killed Floyd, were promptly fired. Minneapolis
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who took the helm of the department
three years ago following backlash over another police killing, called
for an FBI investigation. Mayor Jacob Frey called for the officers to
be charged. On Friday, Chauvin was arrested and charged with
third-degree murder and manslaughter — a charge that means the
officer had no intent to kill and left some protesters disappointed.

“People weren’t having it no more,” said Sam Martinez, an
organizer with the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar. “The
system knew that.”

A number of law enforcement
[[link removed]] and
elected officials across the country also quickly denounced the
Minneapolis officers’ actions — public criticism that would have
been unthinkable just a few years ago.

In New York City, where Floyd’s death carried echoes of Eric
Garner’s and where at least 72 protesters were arrested last night
in a solidarity demonstration, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and
Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter to condemn Floyd’s killing.
“What we saw in Minnesota was deeply disturbing. It was
wrong,” tweeted
[[link removed]] Shea.
“This is not acceptable ANYWHERE.” “I am horrified,” tweeted
[[link removed]] de Blasio.
“George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight and the man who killed
him was a police officer.”

De Blasio’s and Shea’s comments stood in stark contrast with their
defense of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Garner.
Pantaleo was fired last summer
[[link removed]],
five years after Garner’s death.

“It took him five years to take any action in the Eric Garner case,
and now he wants immediate action in Minneapolis,” said Alex Vitale,
who runs the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College,
echoing widespread criticism of de Blasio’s statement.

Even the National Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union
in the country and a staunch defender of officers involved in killings
of unarmed people in the past, released a statement
[[link removed]] criticizing
the Minneapolis officers’ actions. “Based on the by-stander’s
video from this incident, we witnessed a man in distress pleading for
help,” the group wrote in a statement that was soon echoed by many
local chapters of the union. “There is no doubt that this incident
has diminished the trust and respect our communities have for the men
and women of law enforcement.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey fired four police officers following the
killing of George Floyd in their custody. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty
Images

But critics warned that the public condemnations, including by law
enforcement, were more a matter of political expediency than anything
else. “I think that is politically convenient for all of them,”
said Kandace Montgomery, director of Black Visions Collective, a
Minnesota-based racial justice group, which is affiliated with
Reclaim the Block and the Movement for Black Lives. “Until they
actually offer real solutions and offer real policies that address the
inherent violence of police departments, it’s all talk.”

“That’s all well and good, but it means nothing to me until they
actually start making concrete changes in how they do business in
their police department,” echoed Neill Franklin, a retired police
major and the executive director of the Law Enforcement Action
Partnership. Franklin pointed to the long history of complaints of
abuse and excessive force filed against the officers responsible for
Floyd’s death — and to the fact that reports of police misconduct,
nationwide, are kept from public view largely because of union
contracts that protect officers no matter their conduct.

“There are police chiefs who are now voicing their disgust about
what happened in Minneapolis. Well, how about you now move to make
these personnel records public?” said Franklin. “If you really are
concerned as a police leader in what’s happening, not just with
Mr. Floyd, but case after case, rework the union contracts. … We
need to change these laws so that we have the ability to take swift
action.”

But while calling for greater transparency — including a national
database tracking officers terminated for misconduct so they
wouldn’t just move from department to department — Franklin
acknowledged efforts to reform police had largely fallen short.

“Reform is not the answer, we’ve been trying it for decades, and
as you can see, we’re just not getting anywhere,” he said. “We
need a new paradigm of policing in the United States. It needs to be
completely dismantled and reconstructed, not changing a policy here or
there.”

“We are still working with a model of policing in this country that
was born out of slavery in this country, that was born out of a white
supremacy in this country,” he added. “That’s why reform won’t
work and that’s why we haven’t made any traction whatsoever on
this issue of race, as we’ve seen with the death of Mr. Floyd.”

In fact, the swift condemnation of the Minneapolis officers was
largely a testament to the deep crisis policing has been facing for
years. That crisis was only exacerbated by the current health and
economic emergency, which has left communities reeling and feeling
that their government, across institutions, has failed them in
unprecedented ways.

“Police have realized that their basic legitimacy is being
challenged here, and they had better figure out some way to get out
from under this,” said Vitale, who wrote a book
[[link removed]] that
has both anticipated and informed the growing national movement to
defund police. “So if that means throwing a few individual officers
under the bus, they are happy to do that.”

The reluctance of prosecutors to charge the officers responsible for
Floyd’s killing was yet another sign of how little has changed.
“There is other evidence that doesn’t support a criminal
charge,” said County Attorney Mike Freeman, who compared Floyd’s
death to that of Freddie Gray, who died in the custody of Baltimore
police in 2015 — a rare case in which the officers involved were
charged with murder 12 days after the incident. That prosecution was
ultimately unsuccessful. “It was a rush to charge, it was a rush to
justice,” Freeman said of Gray’s case, despite the fact that
Floyd’s death, unlike Gray’s, was clearly caught on camera.

“When it’s the average citizen who gets arrested and charged for
something, the arrest is made immediately as soon as you have probable
cause for an arrest,” noted Franklin, the retired cop.

In Ferguson, the top prosecutor’s refusal to charge officer Darren
Wilson in 2014 led to weeks of protests as a grand jury sifted through
evidence in the case before declining to bring charges. In
Minneapolis, it took three days of protests for Chauvin to be arrested
and charged. Some protesters set several buildings on fire, including
the Third Precinct headquarters, where Chauvin worked.  And as they
did after protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, police responded to
protests of Floyd’s death with tear gas and rubber bullets, at one
point spraying tear gas out of a moving vehicle onto an apparently
peaceful crowd. Several protesters, as well as some journalists
[[link removed]], were arrested.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz mobilized the National Guard, and after
Chauvin was arrested, Frey set an 8 p.m. curfew for the weekend.
President Donald Trump, as Barack Obama did after Freddie Gray’s
killing in Baltimore, called protesters who looted stores “thugs”
— though unlike Obama, Trump also called for them to be shot
[[link removed]].

In fact, Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson ushered in an era of
police reform that saw federal and local governments invest heavily in
police training, including on racial bias, and in technology like body
cameras that officials promised would bring about accountability.
Floyd’s death was yet another reminder that those reforms have
failed.

Police face off with demonstrators outside the police station as
protests continue in the wake of the killing of 18-year-old Michael
Brown on Oct. 22, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty
Images)

“This is happening after five years of being told, ‘Don’t worry,
we’re getting the training,’” said Vitale. “The de-escalation
training, the anti-bias training, the mindfulness training … why
aren’t things getting any better?”

As evidence mounts of the failures of police reform, some departments
and unions are beginning to embrace calls for individual
accountability for “bad cops” who they continue to insist are not
representatives of their institutions as a whole. But while protesters
continue to call for individual officers to be arrested and
prosecuted, there is a growing recognition that police misconduct will
continue, no matter how many reforms politicians enact, as long as
policing exists at the present scale.

“They are desperate. They see that they’ve got a major credibility
problem and that there are active campaigns to take their money
away,” said Vitale. “This whole idea of jailing killer cops as a
way to fix policing is completely naive and misguided. Even when they
are convicted, as rare as that is, there’s really no evidence that
this feeds back into changes in how policing is done.”

Reducing the size of police departments by curbing their resources, he
and others argue, will be far more effective at reducing police
violence than any costly effort to improve the police. “These
‘defund and fund alternatives’ kinds of movement are much more
threatening to police chiefs, which is why I think they are bending
over backwards to try to get out ahead of this thing,” said Vitale.
“People in the movement are shifting: They are not calling for body
cameras and more training. More and more people are like, ‘Fuck
that, take their money away.’”

The Conversation Has Changed

The movement against police brutality took off in Minnesota after
police killed Jamar Clark in 2015. The 24-year-old black man was shot
in the head by a pair of officers who said they had acted in
self-defense, a story some witnesses disputed. In the wake of his
death, community members shut down Interstate 94 and occupied the 4th
Precinct in North Minneapolis for more than two weeks. Despite
intensive organizing by groups like the Twin Cities Coalition for
Justice 4 Jamar, an internal investigation by the Minneapolis police
department found
[[link removed]] that
the two officers who killed Clark did not so much as violate a
department policy.

Since then, local movements have pushed for justice for the families
of victim after victim of police violence in Minnesota. Among those
killed was Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black motorist pulled over
by St. Anthony police in the suburb of Falcon Heights in 2016, whose
girlfriend began livestreaming after an officer shot him as Castile
reached for his wallet. In 2017, Justine Ruszczyk, also known as
Justine Damond, a 40-year-old white woman, was approaching a
Minneapolis police car to report a potential sexual assault when a
startled police officer shot and killed her. And in 2018, body camera
footage revealed Minneapolis police chasing Thurman Blevins, a
31-year-old black man who they said was carrying a gun, and shooting
him to death. Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Castile, was
acquitted, and prosecutors declined to file charges against the
officers who killed Blevins. Mohamed Noor, who killed Ruszczyk,
was sentenced to 12 years in prison
[[link removed]] —
a sentence that some felt only came because Ruszczyk was white and
Noor is black. Her family was awarded a record $20
million settlement.

A niece of Jamar Clark protested with a photograph of the two
Minneapolis police officers who were involved in Clark’s murder on
Oct. 15, 2016, in Minneapolis. Star Tribune via Getty Images

At least a dozen police reform bills have failed to make meaningful
progress in the state legislature since 2015. The most recent effort
began last July, with the appointment of a task force that included
police as well as anti-police-brutality organizers. After a series of
public hearings, the group released a list of 28 proposals for reform
in February, including creating a specialized unit in the Bureau of
Criminal Apprehension for investigating instances of deadly force.
Then Covid-19 hit, and the follow-up actions required by the state
legislature stalled.

On the heels of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson and of a series of
other high-profile police killings, in 2014 Minneapolis became one of
six cities to pilot the National Initiative for Building Community
Trust and Justice — a multimillion-dollar program that was the Obama
administration’s response to the national call for police
accountability. The initiative, widely replicated in police
departments across the country, promoted a “community based”
approach to policing in response to criticism of so-called broken
windows policing and New York-style stop-and-frisk.

“The whole idea was that if police had implicit bias training, so
more money for training police, and were using technology for more
accountability, and that if police officers were more respectful when
they’re interacting with the community, that that will promote a
better idea of policing, and more cooperation with police,” said
Nancy Heitzeg, a sociology professor at St. Catherine University in
Minneapolis, who has studied the initiative.

“That was the theory,” she said. “And what does it say about the
limits of reform that the city of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis
police department could be part of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar
national project to enhance police community relations, and after all
of that, here we are?”

After years of investment in improved policing with no results to show
for it, “the conversation has changed,” she added. “There’s
much more of a public awareness and conversation about abolition, and
what that means and what that might look like. … I think people were
radicalized by Jamar Clark and Philando Castile. And then they saw the
contradictions around Justine Damond.”

Montgomery, the director of Black Visions Collective, said that
organizers are tired of just calling for prosecutions. “We’re
moving past a conversation around prosecuting the police and
individual officers — that doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t
prevent another Philando Castile or George Floyd,” said Montgomery.
“To me and many of my comrades, police reform is irrelevant.”

Some demands have shifted to community control. Organizer Sam Martinez
told The Intercept that the Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar wants a
board similar to a city council or school board to run the police:
controlling its budget, approving union contracts, and deciding
disciplinary actions. Martinez says the board would have to be
fundamentally different from previous civilian police review councils
that law enforcement has mostly ignored.

For his part, Mayor Jacob Frey, who critiqued police during an
election campaign that took place in the aftermath of Ruszczyk’s
killing, increased the police budget
[[link removed]] last
year by more than $8 million, part of an effort
[[link removed]] to
put more officers on the street. He has called his brand of police
reform “community-oriented” policing, where more officers would
build stronger relationships with community members.

Meanwhile, the local police union has maintained powerful sway over
the fate of the mayor’s tepid reform efforts. This summer, Frey
banned police officers from participating in warrior-style trainings
that promote an attitude that lethal threats to police are everywhere.
Yanez, the officer who killed Castile, had participated in one such
training. In response, Minneapolis police union head Bob Kroll, an
avid Trump supporter, stated that the union would offer the training
free to any officer who wanted it.

Montgomery argues that defunding police is the only meaningful way
forward. “For too long we have invested a massive amount of money in
an institution that continues to prove itself to be failing and to be
inadequate to address the safety needs of our community,” said
Montgomery. “Defunding is about allocating the abundance of
resources we do have to things that have been proven to work” —
like housing, health, and education.

On Friday morning, organizers with Reclaim the Block delivered
a petition
[[link removed]] to
Minneapolis city council members, demanding that they agree to never
again increase the police funding, cut the current budget by $45
million to help manage Covid-19 shortfalls, invest in community-led
health and safety strategies, and work to compel the police department
to stop inflicting violence on community members. The elected
officials were given a deadline of 8 a.m. Saturday to respond.

“My greatest hope is that our city council, our mayor, folks across
the country take this opportunity to look at solutions that actually
keep us safe and away from the police,” said Montgomery. “My fear
is that we will settle for something that looks like justice but
won’t change our future and won’t guarantee that we won’t have
to be doing this in a couple of weeks or months or years.”

_Alice Speri writes about justice, immigration, and civil rights. She
has reported from Palestine, Haiti, El Salvador, Colombia, and across
the United States. She is originally from Italy and lives in the
Bronx._

_Alleen Brown is New York-based reporter, focused on environmental
justice issues. Prior to joining The Intercept, she worked as an
education reporter in Minnesota. Her work has been published by The
Nation, In These Times, YES! Magazine, and various Twin Cities
publications._

_Mara Hvistendahl writes about national security and technology.
Before joining The Intercept, she was a National Fellow at New
America and the China bureau chief for Science. Her writing has also
appeared in The Atlantic, The Economist, and Wired, and she has
appeared as a commentator on the BBC, CBS, MSNBC, and NPR._

_Mara is the author of “The Scientist and the Spy,” on an FBI
counterintelligence investigation involving industrial espionage, and
“Unnatural Selection,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
and the Los Angeles Book Prize.  She lived in Shanghai for eight
years and is now based in Minneapolis. She speaks Spanish and
Chinese._

_Become a Member of The Intercept
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costs grow, we depend on reader support. Support The Intercept's
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