Transformational Change Needed to Cure the Virus of Racism Infecting Local Police

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“The tragic and senseless loss of Black lives to police-involved violence over the last several years —  and the callous indifference to justice in response – should have been enough to persuade the nation of the need for dramatic change.  The last several days have made it impossible to ignore.  … Our communities, already saturated in grief over the COVID-19 pandemic, have been pushed to the brink by relentless police brutality and vigilante injustice. Now, white nationalists intent on stoking divisions and discrediting the racial justice movement have smashed their way into this cauldron of anguish and rage. There is only one way out of this crisis. The rift between the police and the communities they are sworn to protect can be healed only by a comprehensive and realistic plan for reform and accountability.” – joint statement by America’s leading civil rights organizations,  June 1, 2020 

Black Americans in 2020  are contending with the devastating impact of two viruses – coronavirus and racism.
Five years ago, in the wake of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Ferguson, Missouri, police, the National Urban League called for comprehensive reform of police recruitment, training and use-of-force policies. 

Since then, at least 122 unarmed African Americans have been killed by police, according to a Washington Post database. 

We called for the mandatory use of body cameras and dashboard cameras

Only 23 of the 122 killings were captured by body cameras. 

The fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor was not captured by body cameras. The 26-year-old EMT was killed by Louisville police executing a no-knock warrant that allegedly was based on a lie. In the affidavit supporting the warrant, a detective claimed to have consulted with a postal inspector, who confirmed that Glover had been “receiving packages” at Taylor’s address. But the Louisville postal inspector has since said that he was never consulted by the officers and that there was nothing suspicious about the packages.

The fatal assault of George Floyd in Minneapolis was not captured by body cameras. It was, however, captured by a nearby security camera and the mobile phones of bystanders. That’s how we know that the officers, as well, apparently filed false reports. The initial police statement claimed Floyd “physically resisted officers.”  Video shows that he did not.

One of the men charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery was a retired investigator who worked in local law enforcement for 30 years. Gregory McMichael’s account of the killing and claims of justification appear to have been accepted without question by George Barnhill, the prosecutor who recommended no charges be filed in the case before recusing himself.  McMichael wasn’t wearing a body camera, but one of the men charged as his accomplice recorded the shooting. 

As a fatally-wounded Ahmaud Arbery fell to the ground, the man who fired the fatal shots, Gregory McMichael’s son Travis McMichael, uttered the words “f***king n****r,” the alleged accomplice told police.

These incidents, and countless others, show that much of our police culture in the United States is infected, but with racism.

Among the measures the National Urban League has proposed:

  • Widespread use of body cameras and dashboard cameras
  • Review and revision of policies related to police hiring, training and use of force 
  • Revising the “qualified immunity” doctrine that shields rogue officers from accountability, changing the standard from “willful” to “reckless”
  • A federal police accreditation system tied to eligibility for federal funds
  • Ending the militarization of local police departments
  • Strictly limiting the use of no-knock warrants.

We look forward to working on a bipartisan basis with members of Congress to advance these and other important reform measures.

By Marc H. Morial 
President and CEO
National Urban League

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