Require body cameras, hold police publicly accountable and stand up to powerful unions to rid system of racist practices.
Ben Crump Opinion Contributor
For decades, we have heard pledges from police chiefs and city leaders that they will reform policing and eliminate the persistent brutality that characterizes far too many encounters between police officers and black Americans.
But the death of George Floyd, graphically documented on video, reveals just how hollow those promises are. His death goes beyond the actions of four cops, and is attributable to institutional failures and systemic racism. It was the knee of the entire Minneapolis Police Department that brought Floyd to his death.
Those same systemic failures can be found in departments across the country. The dramatic step announced by Minneapolis city leaders to dismantle the police department and rebuild it from the ground up is precisely what’s required. It’s way overdue. Every aspect that contributes to the culture, patterns and practice of law enforcement departments needs to be reframed — from the mission to the psychological profile of the officers they recruit; from officer training and discipline to policies and procedures.
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Most important is the extent to which leadership holds officers accountable for their actions. Changing the behavior of police and their treatment of people of color starts at the very top and requires a commitment to overcome any barrier, including standing up to law enforcement unions.
Some police chiefs who promised meaningful reforms have been hampered by union contracts that protect bad cops and fail to give the public a transparent view of who’s responsible for grievous misconduct.
For example, the Minneapolis Police Department union contract expired in December. Even if a leader like Medaria Arradondo, the department’s first black chief, wanted to make changes, the union would not bargain for reforms that hold officers accountable.
To the contrary, law enforcement unions make a business out of defending bad cops and ensuring that they don’t face consequences for their actions.
Had Arradondo been serious about reform, he would have stood up to the union and bargained for it. Instead, Floyd died, and America burned.
What we see in the final moments of Floyd’s life was a systemic failure of accountability.
If officers know they have immunity, they act with impunity.