Tuesday, June 28, 2022
June 28, 2022

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In Our View: Reform still needed 2 years after Floyd murder

The Columbian
Published:

Two years ago today, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. The officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, while the 46-year-old Black man was handcuffed and face down on the pavement. Other officers applied pressure to Floyd’s body or watched as he repeated at least 16 times that he could not breathe.

And then he stopped breathing.

The event was an important moment in American history, inspiring intense reactions and widespread protests while leading to sharp examinations of the need for police reform. As we recall Floyd’s murder, which was captured on video by a bystander, it is appropriate — indeed, essential — to examine the advances the United States has made and those it has avoided in the past two years.

As with seemingly everything else in modern America, Floyd’s death quickly became political fodder. But in the clarity provided by the passage of time, the issue becomes a simple one: A Black man accused of a minor crime was murdered by a white police officer.

Strip away the peripheral issues, and that simple horror remains. The callous disregard for life, the abuse of power, the inhumanity demonstrated by officer Derek Chauvin remains a stain on the United States. Chauvin has been convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter; he has been sentenced to 22½ years in prison.

Accountability for abuse that was witnessed the world over was an important step. It is too easily overlooked in cases of force that are not caught on camera.

But that accountability has not led to widespread reform. As columnist Charles M. Blow wrote this week for the New York Times: “In the end, transformative national change proved to be an illusion. Inflation, a war in Ukraine, public safety, abortion and even a baby formula crisis have overtaken the zeitgeist. Support for Black Lives Matter has diminished. Federal police reform and federal voter protection both failed to pass the Senate. And the founders of Black Lives Matter have been drawn into controversies about how they handled its money.”

In Washington, a series of measures designed to reform police procedures was passed by the Legislature in 2021. Lawmakers limited the situations in which officers could pursue a suspect or use force, and they banned military equipment, chokeholds and no-knock warrants.

After pushback from law enforcement and in the wake of rising crime rates, some reforms were rolled back this year. Police in Washington may again use force to detain people while on patrol, and less-lethal weapons were returned to their arsenal.

After two years of legislative wrangling, Enoka Herat of the ACLU’s Washington branch told the Kent Reporter: “They took away some of the most egregious, harmful tactics and tools used by law enforcement … and (required) that officers use the least amount of force, stop using force when the necessity to use force ends. Having that consistency across the state is really important. It’s about having a certain quality of policing across our state.”

But the most important changes involve accountability. A state office has been created to investigate the use of deadly force, and it is now easier to decertify officers. Removing abusive officers is crucial for increasing confidence in the vast majority of officers who are effective public servants.

Reform in any aspect of American society comes slowly. Two years after the death of George Floyd, the need for continued examination of police tactics and personnel remains.

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