Policing Will Reform With or Without the GOP
America is pushing toward policing reform, with or without Republicans.
Not swiftly, not without debate, and not without public protests. But it will happen.
There is simply too much momentum for either political party to revert to the status quo before George Floyd, before Michael Brown, before Breonna Taylor and so many other Black people who died needlessly at the hands of police.
And yet Republican-led state houses are bearing down on the rights of those who are most fervently pressing for change, on the protesters.
The intention is clearly to stifle a repeat of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests. It’s also aligning the party with some curious compatriots.
In a crowd of diverse protesters milling about a Kansas City park on a sunny afternoon last May after the killing of Floyd, I saw a man decked out in camouflage carrying a Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, its yellow background and coiled rattlesnake increasingly a familiar symbol used by white supremacists and anti-government extremists.
He attempted to egg on young Black men in the crowd, looking for a physical fight. People ignored him while eyeing the shotgun strapped across his back.
Finally, some young people grabbed the flag and burned it, stamping out the flames so nothing spread. Thankfully, the man went on his way, outnumbered and stripped of his signage.
Under the bill Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis just signed into law, this instigator would be protected but those in the largely peaceful crowd could face legal consequences. A few destroyed a historical flag. Even more cheered. In Florida, those acts could now be deemed a second degree felony.
It’s just one provision of Florida’s new “anti-riot” bill, which DeSantis signed just as the jury went to deliberation at the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of Floyd’s death.
Florida’s misnamed “anti-riot” law aligns with a GOP mold, with portions mimicked in other state legislatures, including Missouri.
The law piles on extra penalties, turning misdemeanors to felonies and giving prosecutors and police the power to rope bystanders into repercussions that should only be focused on people who cause harm, either to buildings or others. After all, it’s already a crime to smash windows, torch buildings or physically fight a police officer or another person.
The new law also protects drivers who crash through crowds of protesters from civil lawsuits. Gov. Kevin Stitt also recently signed a similar law in Oklahoma. Like that was needed in any state.
The lack of insight into what’s at stake by GOP leaders is horrendous.
These bills aren’t intended to thoughtfully address tensions, but rather to shut down people who dare raise them, to avoid any discussion of what is vitally relevant in America today — a thorough assessment of modern policing.
Americans who care enough to fill the streets to protest peacefully are ones that reasonable, capable elected officials should want to engage. Not attack, not threaten their constitutional rights and most certainly not to demean in a simplistic “them vs. us” approach to governing.
Elected officials are not only ignoring broad American support of reform efforts, but also the calls for positive change that are coming from within the ranks of law enforcement. There’s no disagreement from chiefs of police that officers are increasingly sent to intervene in situations that involve mental health, addiction and homelessness. And they want solutions too.
Plenty of licensed law enforcement officers across the country have been involved in the reform movement alongside clergy, students and community leaders.
It’s not too late. The GOP party leadership could decide that they wish to play a productive role, rather than be obstinate and try to shut down change that’s already moving ahead.
The guilty verdict against Chauvin in the death of Floyd was one important step. It provided a sense of hope that officers can and will be held accountable for egregious abuses of force.
But the evolving scope of what citizens envision for policing is much larger. Those discussions have barely just begun. The protests of 2020 were a plea, a demand for change that remains largely unanswered. So into another summer of protests we head.
©2021 Mary Sanchez. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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