Chauvin Verdict Reignites Calls for Police Reform

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With this week’s conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, America once again finds itself at an inflection point in its politics.

We’ve been here before: After Newtown, after Parkland, after the protests of 2020, after Atlanta, after Boulder – the chance to really reimagine public safety has sat right in front of us. And every time, thanks to inertia and the intractable nature of our politics, those opportunities have slipped from our grasp.

So from the U.S. Capitol to the halls of statehouses across the country, Chauvin’s guilty verdict in the death of George Floyd in May 2020 has reignited calls for police reform. And lawmakers from Pennsylvania are among them.

Last week, a trio of progressive lawmakers in the Pennsylvania state House highlighted legislation they’re sponsoring that would ban police chokeholds, including the one that Chauvin used to kill Floyd.

Floyd’s death under Chauvin’s knee was captured on video, and shared the world over, sparking the most intense civil rights protests in a generation.

“While we collectively revel in this moment that justice was served for Mr. Floyd, we must recognize that this is but a small victory in the grand scope of protecting communities of color from police violence and meaningfully reforming our system,” Philadelphia Rep. Stephen Kinsey, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement. “… a jury unanimously decided that chokeholds are acts of murder, and this decision should compel us to examine policies of our own law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth.”

Rep. Patty Kim, another sponsor of the proposal, stressed the importance of moving quickly on reform measures while public attention is still focused on the verdict – an effort that has gained further momentum with other police-involved killings of Black people in Columbus, Ohio, and suburban Minneapolis.

Chokeholds are forbidden practices for accredited departments, the lawmakers said, citing the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. However, only 127 of the more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies in the commonwealth are accredited, the lawmakers added.

In a joint statement, a group of progressive politicians from Philadelphia also called for the kind of systemic change that would end many interactions with law enforcement in the first place, including “the criminalization of poverty, hyper surveillance of communities of color, and militarization of police do not keep our communities safe.

“We have seen firsthand that we cannot incarcerate our way out of structural problems, including the problem of police violence. In order to achieve true justice and safety, we need to tackle the causes of police violence at their roots: white supremacy and racial capitalism,” the progressive pols, who included state Reps. Chris Rabb, Elizabeth Fiedler, Rick Krajewski and Sen Nikil Saval, and Philadelphia City Councilmembers Helen Gym, Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier said.

Last Thursday, at the funeral for Daunte Wright, the Minnesota man who died in a confrontation with police earlier this month, the Rev. Al Sharpton said activists would continue their push for a sweeping police reform bill, approved by the U.S. House, that bears Floyd’s name. The bill would, among other things, ban certain “no-knock” warrants, and create a nationwide database of police misconduct.

“In the name of Daunte, we are going to pass the “George Floyd [Justice in] Policing Act” as federal law,” Sharpton said, according to CNN. “We are going to make it against he law across this country to keep having funerals for our young princes … God has turned the page in the state of Minnesota and we’re never going back no more.”

While many Americans continue to support law enforcement, there’s also broad support for reform, as Vox reported.

A majority of American voters want to see Congress pass the House-approved reform bill. They also support the specifics of its provisions, “including a federal ban on chokeholds (71 percent), mandated body cameras for federal officers (84 percent), a prohibition of racial profiling (71 percent), and an end to “qualified immunity” for officers in legal cases (59 percent),” Vox reported.

We’re at another turning point in our politics. A jury has spoken. The people have spoken. Policymakers need only to listen. They can’t let this opportunity for change pass them by once more.

Copyright 2021 John L. Micek, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.