While former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin stood trial for the murder of George Floyd, police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. Protesters assembled outside Brooklyn Center’s police headquarters.
The crowd control tactics inflicted upon the protesters were of such brutality that the following day Brooklyn Center’s city council banned tear gas, rubber bullets, and kettling. But videos reveal that protesters were bombarded with tear gas within 15 minutes of the council’s resolution. While it’s unclear if the gas came from Brooklyn Center police or other agencies not bound by the ban, it demonstrates that such “reform” measures are meaningless when not honored.
And this was just the latest instance of police ignoring hard-won reforms that came as a result of the Summer 2020 uprisings. According to an April 2021 report from Mother Jones, “[m]ore than 30 states, along with countless municipalities and police departments, have set new rules to reduce police violence—including funding cuts, crowd-control restrictions, body-camera mandates, and bans on no-knock warrants and neck restraints—since protests on behalf of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others killed by police rocked the country.”
But Samuel Walker, emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, describes a “pattern of piecemeal reform.” These piecemeal reforms, while important, have long, cyclical history. Generally, there is a high-profile scandal typically involving corruption or police brutality. Promises to implement the latest reforms in policing are offered to appease the public outcry. The new policies are implemented and are effective—for a short while.
As an example, in July 2020, New York City criminalized all use of chokeholds, including “sitting, kneeling, or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm.” Violating the ban is a misdemeanor. But the fact is the New York Police Department (“NYPD”) banned chokeholds more than 25 years ago—more than two decades before an NYPD officer choked Eric Garner to death. Between 2014 and 2020, there were 996 complaints to the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board alleging police officers had placed the complainant in a chokehold.
When there is no enforcement or accountability, changes in the rules are meaningless. Reform is not “reform” until actions and attitudes are changed.
As a digital subscriber to Criminal Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login