Like many, I mourn the murder of George Floyd. But I am also frustrated by the current pattern of repeating the conversations we have had for years about police abuse of their powers with impunity. It is time for action: we know the problems and we know the solutions, at least enough to get us started and have an immediate impact. The issue is whether we have the WILL to take the necessary actions to solve the problems.
I have found the work of the Police Use of Force Project to be especially helpful in moving from discussion to concrete, often immediate, action proposals for local elected officials and police chiefs. DeRay McKesson, one of the founders of the project, has a great piece in this issue of GQ. They argue that the evidence suggests we can achieve up to a 72% decrease in police violence leading to death by implementing these eight policies.
Eight Policies to Reduce Police Violence
- Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
- Require de-escalation
- Require warning before shooting
- Exhaust all other means before shooting
- Duty to intervene and stop excessive force by other officers
- Ban shooting at moving vehicles
- Require use-of-force continuum
- Require comprehensive reporting each time an officer uses forces or threatens to do so
Especially useful is their tool tracking the 100 top departments in the nation and the extent to which they have implemented these policies. The project makes a critically important point regarding the need to defund police departments and to reallocate resources currently going to police to provide funding for the people who should be handling all the situations (the vast majority of police work) that do not require someone with a gun.
In addition to the eight policies they focus on, I would add a few to the list for consideration including:
- External civilian review boards for review of all allegations of misconduct for use of force
- Independent review of police misconduct by skilled investigators external to the local police and prosecutors
- State restrictions on hiring cops fired from one jurisdiction for abusive conduct by another department
- Police complaint records are public (without complainants’ names divulged to officer or public during investigation) and sustained charges against officers should part of the public record
- Police departments should be required to publish annual/semi-annual reports on the number of civilian complaints and the result of reviews and action taken for sustained charges
Those currently working on police and criminal justice reform probably can add many more. But this is a good launch pad for moving from protest to action.
As we move to take immediate, initial actions to end unbridled and unaccountable police behavior, we must recognize that police brutality does not operate as an isolated phenomenon but is part of a societal structure and supporting systems of oppression that permeate most aspects of American life. Especially important to understanding and addressing the treatment of Black people by the justice system is how policing intrudes into the educational process and constitutes one fountainhead of the “school to prison pipeline.”
As we consider the broader context in which Black people experience disparate economic and other life outcomes in America, we must sharpen our focus on quality education for all as one powerful anecdote to poverty and economic inequities, making it even more critical that we focus on education.
In the words of James Baldwin, “we are our history” and, therefore, we must work to actively adopt and implement an anti-racist agenda in our schools, from curriculum, instruction, and learning opportunities to school-based safety and climate. No longer can we accept the legacy of color and permit it to mute our voices in opposition to racism in schools; silence is complicity.
Just as there are immediate actions we must take to end police violence while we educate and deliberate on the structural changes needed to cure the disease of racism that infects that system, justice in schools is no exception.
First, we urge school districts to be informed by research showing that more security leads to more disciplinary infractions particularly for low-level offenses and for Black and Hispanic students.
Second, school districts should immediately decriminalize the school environment so that it is conducive to learning by:
- Stopping criminalization of student behavior that should be handled as a school matter.
- Ending the practice of suspending students for non-violent conduct and especially for highly subjective offenses like defiance of authority and disruptive conduct that disproportionately impacts students of color
- Redirecting funds from contracts with local police departments to hire bilingual, culturally competent mental health counselors, teachers and administrators who look like their students and other supportive staff to create safe, positive and supportive environments.
- Investing in culturally responsive approaches to restorative and transformative justice, social-emotional learning, trauma-informed approaches, support for healing of students, especially those who have been victimized by aggressive policing that is known to lower educational performance.
I hope you will join me in pursuing these actions now.
Junious Williams, Board President