Thousands of protestors marched to the Georgia Capitol June 15, 2020, to protest police brutality and voter supression in the wake of several high-profile killings. (Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder)
“Defund the police”– a rallying cry during the 2020 protests following the unwarranted deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police – is now a congressional football that Democrats and Republicans keep throwing up as Hail Mary passes without anyone scoring a touchdown.
First, Republicans accused Democrats of embracing “defund the police” to take police off the street, which they said would fuel lawlessness and make communities less safe. U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and other Republicans pushed for a COVID-19 relief package for local governments that would help save the jobs of first responders and teachers.
“This is about robust growth. We have to do as much as we can for as many as we can,” Cassidy said at the time “This is about taking care of first responders. I don’t want to be the guy defunding the police.”
According to Democrats, Cassidy is that guy. Last month, Democrats accused Republicans of “defunding the police.” Not one Republican voted for President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Biden urged cities with increasing crime to use $350 billion of coronavirus relief funds to hire more police officers and to pay more overtime. He added that the funds could be used to increase the number of programs that help people dealing with substance abuse and help fund mental health services “that we know will make a difference in the prevention of crime.”
Fortunately for Louisiana, state officials stopped playing games long enough to approve several police reform bills that Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law. These new state laws:
- Reduce the time allowed for an officer under investigation to obtain an attorney from 30 days to 14 days; increases the time an agency has to complete an internal investigation from 60 days to 75 days; and requires all complaints against an officer supported by evidence to remain in the officer’s personnel file for at least 10 years.
- Prohibit chokeholds and no-knock warrants; and mandates policies for dashboard and body-worn cameras.
- Give new powers to the Council on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which provides training curriculum and certifies all law enforcement officers in the state.
Even though Republican state senators defeated an important bill that would have limited police use of qualified immunity, our state still has done more than Congress has. The state formed the Police Training, Screening and De-escalation Task Force, which included lawmakers from both parties, representatives from law enforcement, professionals, academics, activists and other community stakeholders. The taskforce submitted 18 recommendations for police reform.
Congress has been trying to pass a police reform bill since Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, murdered George Floyd. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed the House by a 236-181 vote on June 25, 2020. The Senate, however, can’t get the job done.
If approved, the federal bill would create a national police misconduct registry and require all federal, state and local law enforcement to submit reports about complaints and discipline. The bill also would ban the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases. Those bans would only apply to federal officers, a small portion of the nation’s police forces.
While the national parties are playing political games in the Senate, police are still killing Black people unjustly, gun violence continues to soar, and carjackings are on the rise. In New Orleans, for example, residents are afraid to pump gas at local stations because carjackings have increased by 91.3% so far this year. According to the New Orleans City Council Crime Dashboard, other violent crimes also are rising: fatal shootings have increased by19%, murders without a gun are up 71%, aggravated assaults have increased by 47% and non-fatal shootings have increased by 75.8%.
Nationally, there was an 18% increase in murders for the first three months of 2021 compared with the same time period in 2020, according to a New York Times study.
The protestors who shouted “defund the police” last year were demanding that money be reallocated from policing to fund other agencies, such as those that provide mental health services. According to Arjun Singh Sethi, adjunct professor of law at Georgetown Law School, there are two camps: reduce funds and reform aspects of policing, or completely abolish police forces as we know them.
Both camps have merit.
We can’t defund the police while violent crimes are rising. At the same time, we must eliminate the systemic racism responsible for the injustice and unnecessary deaths of Black people by police. We must strive to stop the long history of police violence against Black people; to prevent the unequal treatment in the criminal justice system; and to keep everyone — regardless of race, nationality or income — safe.
In other words, the U.S. Senate needs to stop passing the ball and help fix what’s broken.
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