The name George Floyd has become so interwoven into the fabric of the American consciousness that it's almost hard to comprehend that, outside of friends or family, few knew his name this time last year. But Floyd's murder on May 25, 2020 under the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin catapulted the country into a chaotic reckoning on race and police misconduct.
Across the country, countless unarmed Black men and women have died at the hands of police, but rarely had those lives been extinguished on camera in broad daylight, and then broadcast across the globe.
Nine minutes and 29 seconds.
Chauvin's arrest, trial and subsequent conviction were hailed as watershed moments. But now a year later following Floyd's death the question must be asked... has anything actually changed?
According to Newsweek, citing data from the research group Mapping Police Violence, as of April 20, 181 Black people in the U.S. have been killed by the police since Floyd's death.
Of the 966 police killings reported since May 25, 2020, the database shows that Black people account for 18.7 percent, despite making up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau. Police killings of white victims made up 37 percent of the total deaths. White Americans are 76.3 percent of the population, the Census Bureau says.
One of the few tangible measures to emerge in the weeks following Floyd's murder was The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. Among other measures, the Act addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability.
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The bill enhances existing enforcement mechanisms to remedy violations by law enforcement. Among other things, it does the following:
- Lowering the criminal intent standard—from willful to knowing or reckless—to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution,
- Limiting qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer, and
- Granting administrative subpoena power to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in pattern-or-practice investigations.
Introduced by Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. the bill would create a national registry—the National Police Misconduct Registry—to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct. It also establishes new reporting requirements, including on the use of force, officer misconduct and routine policing practices (e.g., stops and searches). It also limits the unnecessary use of force and restricts the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds and carotid holds.
The House passed the Act back in March. But it has shown little sign of life in the Senate, where it would require at least 10 Republican votes.
But there are promising signs on other fronts. The Justice Department appears to have refocused its gaze toward reining in police misconduct.
In just over the past several weeks, it has opened investigations of police in Louisville, Kentucky, and Minneapolis. Federal prosecutors have charged four former Minneapolis police officers including Chauvin with civil rights violations in Floyd’s death, and accused three men of hate crimes in the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. In both criminal cases, authorities moved forward with federal charges before most of the defendants have gone to state trial.
“What we couldn’t get them to do in the case of Eric Garner, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and countless others, we are finally seeing them do,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said after the charges were announced in Floyd’s death.
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