Protests Build Momentum For Wide-Ranging Police Reform | WYPR

Protests Build Momentum For Wide-Ranging Police Reform

Jun 8, 2020

Tracey Cox VanDyke demonstrates June 2 in Louisville, KY, to stop police violence against Blacks.
Credit AP Photo/Darron Cummings

As the nationwide protests continue over the police killing last month in Minneapolis of George Floyd, there have been renewed calls for defunding police departments, and at the very least, reforming use-of-force policies employed by police across the country.   Protests have focused attention on the fact that people of color have been subjected to unconstitutional police tactics for generations.  Baltimore City is under a federal consent decree for that very reason.  The Speaker of the Maryland House, Adrienne Jones, has convened a bipartisan work group to study ways to reform law enforcement.  In Washington, the House and Senate will be considering federal legislation as well...

Last Monday, in a call with US governors, Defense Secretary Mark Esper encouraged state leaders to “dominate the battlespace” when suppressing the violence that occurred during some of the early protests.  Hours later, federal police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a peaceful crowd across the street from the White House.  Former Defense Secretary James Mattis and other military leaders have denounced Esper and President Trump.  Senator Ben Cardin has called for the resignation of Attorney General William Barr, who is said to have ordered the violent response to the peaceful protest....

We begin today with a conversation about police reform.  Yesterday in Minneapolis, nine members of the city council, a veto-proof majority, vowed to completely overhaul the Minneapolis Police Department.  City Council President Lisa Bender told an audience, “Our commitment is to do what is necessary to keep every single member of our community safe, and to tell the truth: that the Minneapolis Police are not doing that.  Our commitment is to end the city’s toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.”

In an essay in the New York Times about a week ago, co-writer Thenjiwe McHarris of the Movement for Black Lives proposed reducing the powers of the police as the only way to assure the safety of African Americans and other people of color.  Are there people other than armed officers who can respond to traffic accidents, non-violent crimes (like passing counterfeit bills), missing children or even mental health emergencies?

And for situations that do require a police response, what can be done to reduce the chance that police will abuse their power?

We had planned to speak today with Sam Sinyangwe, a Stanford-trained social policy analyst and data scientist, and a co-founder with DeRay Mckesson of Campaign Zero, a national movement aimed at ending police violence and promoting new approaches to law enforcement.  Mr. Sinyangwe was unable to join us. 

Campaign Zero's "8cantwait" project is one of many proposals being advanced for reforming police practices. But more radical activists doubt if such proposals can ever gain a foothold in a policing culture they argue is resistant to change.

We welcome your questions and comments on the topic.