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News > U.S.

George Floyd Case Underscores Thorny Issue of US Police Reform

  • A graffiti in memory of George Floyd, U.S.

    A graffiti in memory of George Floyd, U.S. | Photo: Twitter/ @RazasLife1

Published 5 April 2021

Republicans fear that any of President Biden's potential reforms could mean inhibiting officers' ability to control violent crime.

The ongoing murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin who killed black man George Floyd underscores the issue of police reform.


Former MN Police Officer Derek Chauvin Murder Trial Begins

The full video of Floyd's arrest played by prosecutors in opening statements in the trial shows that Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for about 9 minutes and 30 seconds, instead of the widely reported 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The incident sparked nationwide protests and led to even some calls to de-fund the police.

"Biden wants the police to work closely with the communities they serve and avoid the aggressive tactics that have been used in certain places… this includes a ban on chokeholds and greater accountability when law enforcement actions lead to death or bodily harm,” Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West said.

During Biden's six terms as a senator, he had strong backing from cops' organizations. He pledged to address police reform during his campaign and the broader issue of racial inequality.

But the issue is not an easy one to tackle. Republicans take a pro-law enforcement stance and fear that any of Biden's potential reforms could mean inhibiting officers' ability to control violent crime, or that they could put officers' lives in danger. They will also condemn the Democratic moves as making it harder for police officers to enforce the law.

Clay Ramsay, a researcher at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, explained that Biden could take several steps toward police reform.

One is to legislate a grant program for municipalities to build up community policing in their police departments. The vague phrase covers many activities that those who support de-funding the police favor, especially using social workers and paramedics to help handle many police calls where the threat of violence is low.

Another is to pass legislation that would wind down mass incarceration, as the aging U.S. prison population's extraordinary size is more and more expensive. This subject has bipartisan legs in Congress, and it has many different aspects, some of which would pass with little difficulty. Moreover, Attorney General Merrick Garland's Department of Justice (DOJ) can resume federal investigations of abuse in local police departments and sue them.

If a police department doesn't want to face DOJ lawyers in court, it can sign a consent decree which commits it to change its behavior with DOJ supervision -- this tool was abandoned by the DOJ under former U.S. President Donald Trump, Ramsay recalled and commented that “we are about to see whether Garland brings it back and how forcefully he uses it."


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