How do we make police workforce culture anti-racist?

Through review and data sharing a civil investigation could reform racial discrimination in policing

“Justice for George Floyd? Unpacking the Chauvin Verdict” assessed the conviction of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The speakers explored the impact of the verdict on policing and whether individual accountability or systemic justice would make the police workforce anti-racist.

Jennifer Mason McAward, Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights, explored the difference between individual accountability and systemic justice in the Chauvin case.

Referencing the case where the other officers stood by as Floyd was killed, she said it hinted at “a culture of impunity and a tolerance for abusive behaviour” in the Minneapolis police department. She said that if the others are convicted, it could create a deterrent effect and serve as an example for officers not to stand by if their colleagues use excessive force.

Reviewing policing processes

She talked about an investigation launched by the Justice Department shortly after the Chauvin verdict called the “pattern or practice investigation”, a civil investigation with a “goal for system change”.

According to McAward, this will involve interviews with police officers and community members and will review “everything from arrest reports to citizen complaints and official training policies” to determine whether there is a “system-wide problem with using excessive force or systematic racism in Minneapolis policing.”

The Justice Department will then “get together” with the police department on a settlement where the court can impose sanctions on the police department if they don’t comply.

The police department, she said, could “agree to do everything from engaging in better data collection”, where there currently isn’t enough data to “know what’s going on” to creating stricter limitations on the use of force and police training rules. She added that consent decrees (settlements) in the past have led to “real and sustainable change in the police department.”

She also said a more “nuanced approach” to assessing policing is needed, including whether a police officer is escalating a situation with an unarmed member of the public, where police departments can agree on excessive force standards, including what excessive force looks like. This will include “fact-intensive enquiry” over excessive force when used instead of “blind deference to police officers.”

What “defunding the police” actually means

Emmanuel Cannady, a doctoral candidate in sociology and community activist who has been involved in the Black Lives Matter movement in Indiana, US, said that conservative views paint the likes of Chauvin as a “bad apple” whilst others say police brutality is part of a systemic problem in the police department, which he described as a “dialectic back and forth” which “needs to change.”

With many other Black lives lost to police brutality since George Floyd’s death, Cannady said that “individual accountability” clearly doesn’t help eradicate systemic violence, where the Black Lives Matter movement is focused on systemic justice across many spheres, and not just in policing.

Cannady said that “individual accountability” as a form of justice can be dangerous as police officers could be more likely to remain silent over police violence for fear that they’ll be punished too, rendering police officers passive bystanders, like Chauvin’s colleagues.

He explained the “sentiment” around defunding the police by pointing to the lack of trust from within many Black communities in the US to the institution. He said while Black communities are often the subjects of “hyper surveillance” when they need protection and a police officer enters their community, there is a risk that someone from their community could get shot.

He also mentioned the “mass incarceration” system that disproportionately affects Black communities as another reason why the community policing system is broken. He then said that the concept of policing and community care should be revised to make it fit for purpose.

He suggested that defunding the police and instead investing in community roles to intervene in crises without firearms could help. He also mentioned community programmes and investing in housing, schooling, mental health services, and Black-owned businesses to reduce community stress and trauma, reducing the chances of anti-social incidents occurring.

He also said that systemic racism couldn’t be solved through “punitive measures” but through “healing”, where reviewing policing is just “the tip of the iceberg” for making structural changes to foster inclusion and equality for Black communities in public life.

To watch the panel discussion in full, please click here.

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