In the words of every philosophy professor I’ve ever had, “let’s do a quick thought experiment.” Imagine you hire someone to do a job with a pretty clear description and expectations. If that person kept messing up on such a large scale that you had to crowdsource the funds to fix the damage that they did, you’d probably fire them, right?
Now, imagine that you’re putting together a team of new hires. Some of them might be pretty good at their jobs, but you still have a few really sh*tty employees. Even the good ones seem ill-equipped to step in to help fix or prevent the others’ mistakes. Maybe you call some people who run teams similar to yours and find that they’re all experiencing the same thing.
I might not be an employer or anyone’s boss. Still, even I can reach the conclusion that there is something deeply wrong with continuing to pay people who not only suck at their jobs but make other people’s lives way harder, when they don’t end lives themselves. No sane person would continue paying those employees, so how did we get to where we are now with the police officers sworn to protect us? And the elected officials, like mayors and city council members, we specifically chose to keep them in line?
Well when you don’t vote in local elections, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Imagine if you called firefighters and they just beat the shit out of you instead of putting the fire out
— Ethel (@Ethelmonster) June 5, 2020
Like most people, I’m a huge fan of being told exactly what I need to do to fix a problem. But as with most things in life, there is minimal success in quick fixes, especially when it comes to long-standing, fundamental, systemic injustices. This means that there’s no one action that we need to take, and nothing will be fixed in a single day, even if that single action is voting for president in November. In an op-ed earlier this month in the New York Times, Stacey Abrams wrote: “to say that the answer is to go cast a ballot feels not just inadequate, but disrespectful.”
1 in 13 black americans that have lost their right to vote due to felony convictions as part of systemic racism in the justice system. so before you say to “take your anger to the voting booth” just know not everyone has a voice there.
— parker (@momappreciator) June 2, 2020
I discussed the issues of speaking about voting as a ‘solution’ with Dr. Anna Mahoney, the director of research at Tulane University’s Newcomb Institute. She explained that “we in the United States have a long history of keeping all kinds of people out of what we consider to be ‘traditional electoral politics.'”
“Who the President is, is really really important. Not just because of the constitutional powers that are assigned to the executive branch, but because of the informal powers that the President has,” explained Dr. Mahoney. Whether we like it or not, the way the President frames these issues and his language surrounding police brutality has a big impact on voters and other political issues. As Biden senior advisor Symone Sanders pointed out in a recent Sup podcast, there’s a reason why the people protesting in D.C. are doing so outside the White House — not their mayor’s office.
Obviously, we need more than just a shift in the way we discuss police brutality, which is where our local governments come in to play. In my mini-lesson on local government, Dr. Mahoney clarified some of the local offices that have the most influence in police protocol and behavior.
“Mayors are really important, because, in a lot of places that choose police chiefs, and their relationships are significant,” she said. Sheriffs and district attorneys also play a significant role in working with law enforcement. “Thinking about cases that district attorneys choose to put forward is really important, and we have seen really groundbreaking elections in other states like New York.”
Basically, from the President all the way down to smaller local offices, the people we elect make a huge difference in our policing. Yet, they’re rarely a big point of focus due to the decline in local media sources. Local officials create community-specific legislation and set budgets that determine how we fund police departments and pay our officers.
Abrams tells us that we must “protest to demand attention to the wrenching pain of systemic injustice as a society. Vote because we deserve leaders who see us, who hear us and who are willing to act on our demands.” Those of us who can vote must work on electing people who make will make sure that, at the very minimum, those who are getting paid to “serve and protect” us are doing that and not targeting, harassing, and killing our neighbors and fellow community members (i.e., the other people who pay them.)
Right now, especially, it is really vital to continue protesting and donating to important causes. Every single voice and action matters – but, as we all know, your activism has to go further than your Instagram feed, and it must last longer than the next few weeks. Unless we carry this with us to November and beyond then, we are only hurting ourselves. As President Obama wrote, when it comes to the divide between protesting and voting, “it’s not an ‘either-or,’ it’s a ‘both-and.'”
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Summer in America began with two consecutive weeks of protests against the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, which followed the devastating racially motivated murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Six years after the Black Lives Matter movement grew from protests against the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—six years during which police continued to routinely murder Black men and women in their communities, in their homes, in their cars, and every place a human deserves to feel safe—Floyd’s death has brought tens of thousands of Americans into the streets to demand a change.
The protests against police brutality were…. rife with police brutality. Every day brought us new scenes of needless violence and provocation on behalf of law enforcement while opportunistic politicians focused only on those who compromised the movement’s message by committing looting and vandalism. For their part, the protesters were largely peaceful.
Peaceful protesting works—especially when the exact forces you are protesting against prove their inadequacy every chance they get. Cities are already moving to change the way they conceive of public safety, vowing to divert funding from law enforcement to social and youth services, ban certain police procedures that often turn deadly, and demand more accountability for officers involved in violent encounters.
We’re keeping track of the wins of the protest movement against police brutality here:
Minneapolis City Council Votes To Dismantle Police Force
On June 7, the Minneapolis City Council announced it would vote to “dismantle” the city’s police department, saying it’s too broken to be reformed as is. Following George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer and other high profile incidents, the city will reimagine how law enforcement can promote public safety. City Council President Lisa Bender says they will dissolve and replace the police department with a “transformative new model of public safety.”
What will this look like in practice? It remains to be seen, but Bender told NPR this week that she expects a combination of budget reallocation and social programs to foster community health and safety through means other than policing, like reinvestment in social and mental health services, which account for a huge portion of the city’s 911 calls.
This came just one day after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was booed by protesters after saying he did not support abolishing the force. Enough City Council members have committed to the vote that the mayor cannot veto their decision. Plus, Prince is the forever mayor of Minneapolis anyway.
Louisville, Kentucky Considers Banning “No-Knock” Warrants
In March, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was killed by police in her own home when they broke through her door with a battering ram to execute a “no-knock warrant,” the questionably legal practice that allowed officers to bang on her door without announcing themselves as law enforcement. We know now that the police had virtually no reason to be at Breonna’s home, and certainly none pursue a violent raid.
An ordinance proposed by the Louisville Metro Council would limit the “no-knock” warrants that resulted in Breonna’s death to cases involving “imminent threat of harm or death,” and limited to offenses including murder, hostage-taking, kidnapping, terrorism, human trafficking and sexual trafficking.
Police were granted a “no-knock” warrant to search Breonna’s home because the police claimed a postal inspector confirmed she received packages there (the Louisville postal inspector has since said he was never consulted, and there was nothing suspicious about the packages).
Confederate Statues Fall Across The United States
After protesters in Richmond, Virginia covered a monument to army commander Robert E. Lee in graffiti and projected a stunning image of George Floyd, Governor Ralph Northam (yes, the one who did blackface) announced plans to finally remove the monument to the confederate general that was erected 130 years ago.
🚨TODAY: Governor Northam is expected to make a HISTORIC announcement at 11am, calling for the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Ave.
Overnight, George Floyd’s face was projected onto the base of the monument. pic.twitter.com/OWzCygeKtk
— Anthony Antoine (@AnthonyNBC12) June 4, 2020
However, a judge has temporarily blocked the removal after the Virginia descendent of a signatory to the monument’s deed claimed moving it would “cause irreparable harm” to the statue. Yeah, that’s kind of the whole point.
Confederate monuments will also be removed in Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida. The Black Lives Matter movement even jumped across the pond over the weekend, as protesters in Bristol, England toppled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston.
New York City Mayor Vows To Cut Police Budget
Nobody’s favorite mayor Bill De Blasio vowed to cut the NYPD’s $6 billion budget and divert funds to youth and social services. While advocates had urged De Blasio to commit to a full $1 billion reduction in funding (the city’s entire operating budget is $90 billion), De Blasio stopped short of promising a seven-figure cut.
New York State Moves To Ban Chokeholds
On June 8, six years after an officer killed Eric Garner on a Staten Island sidewalk as he plead “I can’t breathe,” New York State Assembly on Monday passed the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act. The bill will criminalize chokehold that result in death or injury. According to the bill, an officer who kills or injures another person can be charged with a class C felony and serve up to 15 years in prison. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill.
While the NYPD had already banned chokehold in 1994, state lawmakers note that was not enough to save Eric Garner. Garner’s killer, Officer Daniel Pantaleo
Los Angeles Cuts Police Budget
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti agreed to slash up to $150 million from the Los Angeles Police Department’s $2 billion budget.
Members Of Congress Introduce The Most Sweeping Police Reform Bill In Decades
Democratic members of the House and Senate unveiled the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 this week, which would prohibit the use of choke-holds, allow for greater criminal and civil penalties for police misconduct, ban certain no-knock warrants, and create a national registry to track police misconduct. The bill also pursues an end to qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields police officers and other public officials from being sued in civil lawsuits over misconduct that occurred on the job.
“We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday. It’s unlikely the Republican-controlled Senate will pass the bill as is.