Jesse Jackson: Police Reform Won't Be Easy

Jesse Jackson | 6/12/2020, 7:01 a.m.
As the worldwide demonstrations continue two weeks after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, the question is ...

As the worldwide demonstrations continue two weeks after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, the question is whether outrage will lead to real reforms? Fundamental reforms would begin with ending the "qualified immunity" of police, curbing the militarization of police forces, transferring funds and functions to social agencies, imposing residency requirements and finally making lynching a hate crime.

There is good reason to be skeptical. After the remarkable Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country in 2014, very little changed. Police continue to kill over 250 African Americans a year (of nearly 1,000 Americans each year). In most cities, racial profiling, constant harassment, routine brutality, and mass arrests continue. Powerful police unions block reforms.

Cynical politicians - in this case led by Donald Trump who has been tweeting "more money for Law Enforcement - fan fears. Callous officials like Attorney General William Barr deny the existence of systemic racism in our criminal justice system. With 18,000 separate police organizations organized locally across the country, real reform is hard.

There is also reason for hope. After dozens of commissions beginning with the Kerner Commission in 1967 and moving forward, we know a lot about what needs to be done. What has been missing is will, not ideas. And now, as the demonstrations reveal, Americans - black and white, young and old - are demanding change.

On Monday, Democrats - led by Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the CBC, and Senators Corey Booker and Kamala Harris - introduced The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 which calls for basic reforms.

It would revise the "qualified immunity," which has protected police from liability for excessive use of force, curb the transfer of military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies, mandate data collection of police misconduct and a centralized registry of offenders, mandate racial training and outlaw choke holds and no-knock warrants. It would finally make lynching a hate crime, passing legislation that has been pending for over 100 years.

Many of these same reforms can and should be passed at a state level, not allowing Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump to bottle up reform.

Similarly, as Campaign Zero has detailed in #8Can'tWait, local officials or city councils can simply order basic changes in police techniques: outlawing choke holds, mandating de-escalation efforts, requiring warning before shooting, creating a duty to intervene against excessive force by other officers, banning shooting at moving vehicles and more.

"Defund the police" has been added to the massive "Black Lives Matter" painted on the road leading to the White House in Washington. Trump, of course, has jumped on the slogan in an effort to discredit any reform.

But the advocates of "defund the police" aren't fools. They understand that the police will be with us -- but that their role and their functions need to be dramatically rethought. "We must end policing as we know it," stated Lisa Bender, the Minneapolis City Council President who leads a veto-proof majority of the city council dedicated to "recreating a system of public safety that will actually keep us safe."