The terms of the protests: Systemic and institutional reform

People may even want different things, such as more radical change like abolishing the police entirely, but these ten proposed changes are a crucial contribution to the conversation of what to do about police brutality in America.

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The recent protests that have sustained for over a month across the country over the murder of an unarmed black man by the police are not—as many have noted—solely about the prosecution of an individual police officer. Although ensuring that Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged was one of functions and goals of the protests, they are about more than that. Nor are they entirely about the prosecution of the other three police officers that enabled George Floyd’s murder by not intervening (although that is, again, an important part of the protests). The protests are also not (just) about providing a release valve for the anger and sadness and grief and despair over another superfluous murder of an unarmed black man (but the protests do provide catharsis for people). The people that are attending the protests with such intense conviction are there for authentic systemic and institutional reform; real qualitative change to the way that police officers treat human beings (specifically black and brown human beings). 

The protesters are fighting for ‘justice’ in the abstract, and justice is not allowing another unarmed person to be needlessly murdered by the police. Substantive policies being enacted are what can prevent more murders and solve the related concerns of intrusive policing and over-policing. This is where an issue arises, not everyone has the time—or the organizational means—to navigate the judicial-legislative policies that are currently instituted and figure out how to develop ideas and concepts to combat police brutality and invasive behaviors. Fortunately, the leadership of Black Lives Matters already established Campaign Zero, a comprehensive list of proposed legislation and concepts to eradicate police violence. 

Campaign Zero is extremely thorough, providing state-specific examples of the proposed legislation being enacted and studies of the purported effects of instituting said legislation and concepts. There are ten major components that Campaign Zero outlines: End broken windows policing, community oversight, limiting the use of force that can be applied by police officers, independent (rather than internal) investigation and prosecution, community representation (in the police force), body cams and the legal right to film the police, effective training, ending for-profit policing, demilitarization of the police force, and fair police union contracts. All of these various policies and changes could effectively limit police violence to an absolute minimum, particularly violence imposed on minorities and the marginalized. 

These policies and changes address the intricate and interconnected nature of race, class, and police brutality in America. Yet, more could be done on a federal level to combat police brutality, such as ending the war on drugs and decriminalizing or legalizing cannabis, but the Campaign Zero policies are a good start that can be implemented on either the state or federal level. 

Their website, www.joincampaingzero.org, provides a complete explanation of all of their policies and studies to back them up. I will supply a couple of their most imperative and pertinent policies to give an idea of what they’re attempting to do, and how they plan on doing it. 

End Broken Windows Policing

“Broken Windows Policing” are policies that allow police to stop and detain someone over a nominal offense, such as a broken window on a car. According to their website, “broken windows policies have led to the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color and excessive force in otherwise harmless situations. In 2014, police killed at least 287 people who were involved in minor offenses and harmless activities like sleeping in parks, possessing drugs, looking ‘suspicious’, or having a mental health crisis”. Broken Windows policing gives a legal reason for an unreasonable, usually racially induced, suspicion. 

They list numerous activities that do not pose a public-risk, but can pose a risk to the person that is detained or stopped, such as: Jaywalking, possession of marijuana, disturbing the peace (including loud music), spitting, public consumption of alcohol, and loitering. They state that these innocuous activities could either be fully decriminalized or de-prioritized. And in my opinion, they should be fully decriminalized, as de-prioritization gives police officers discretion to enforce these nominal offenses, which would likely be applied unevenly across racial lines.

Ending Broken Window policing also includes ceasing stop-and-frisks and prohibiting stops for nervous behavior or for being in a high-crime area. Essentially, ending broken window policing means that police officers can no longer stop someone for a nominal offense (so legalizing those offenses) and they can no longer stop someone for any non-criminal behavior or because someone meets a vague description. 

Limit Use of Force

This is another important change that pertains directly to the cases of unarmed black people being murdered by police. The Campaign Zero website states that “police should have the skills and cultural competence to protect and serve our communities without killing people – just as police do in England, Germany, Japan, and other developed countries”. 

They suggest that officers should use de-escalation techniques when a situation develops with a citizen, which means giving a situation time to calm down and space when an imminent threat is not present. Also, deadly force should never be used unless there is an imminent threat to a police officer’s life or a civilian’s life. Campaign Zero also states that officers should hold a less deadly weapon, such as a taser or mace, rather than a gun for an ordinary, routine day (a gun could possibly be somewhere in the car for certain officers with specialized training) this limits unnecessary shootings when a lesser weapon could have been utilized. 

Campaign Zero also stipulates that force should also not be used against someone who is talking back or has run away, and “chokeholds, strangleholds (i.e. carotid restraints), hog-tying and transporting people face down in a vehicle” should all be banned as ways of detaining people. Officers should also no longer be able to chase a moving vehicle unless the people inside said vehicle have committed a violent felony, avoided unnecessary injury, and damages to the people inside of the car and others that may be driving on the road. They also recommend establishing a proactive “early intervention system to correct officers who use excessive force” which would detect officers with a certain amount of complaints and re-train them and be monitored by a supervisor (and eventually terminated if complaints keep coming). 

I did not entirely cover all of the suggested changes that Campaign Zero makes on their website, there are eight others, and the two that I did cover I only partially covered. I do not intend to speak for what every protester wants but these are ten very good substantial changes that could prevent police violence in the future. These are detailed and concrete reforms of the entire police apparatus that can be fought for and implemented on a state by state, and hopefully, federal, level; these things can be locally demanded then become state-wide legislation.

People may even want different things, such as more radical change like abolishing the police entirely, but these ten proposed changes are a crucial contribution to the conversation of what to do about police brutality in America.

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