A few years ago, a young Black man was violently dragged from his car by white police officers, arrested and charged with obstructing the police because he had not complied with an order to get out of his car during a traffic stop. He had been instantly paralyzed by fear and panic. Not knowing what to do, he had called his mother instead of getting out of the car.
As his attorney, I interviewed his mother as a witness. She tearfully recounted that phone call from her son as she relived that horrific experience. The panic set in with every word she spoke as she shared the events of that day.
She had been petrified that her son might be killed, knowing that situations like this all too often end in tragedy for young Black people. Her fear had been so intense that she fainted while on the phone with him that night. When she awoke, she had no idea if her son was dead or alive. Looking into her eyes and hearing her story brought me to tears.
While I was able to prevent my client from wrongful conviction, I could not undo the fear and trauma he and his family had experienced — fear and trauma that are all too common for people of color in this country.
Many in the Black community live in fear that the police will hurt them rather than help them. This is unacceptable.
America was shaken on May 25 by the brutal killing of George Floyd and the calm, complacent look on the face of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes — all while Floyd cried “I can’t breathe” and called out for his mother.
This isn’t just a problem of “a few bad apples”; two officers helped hold Floyd down while a third looked on. Each of them had a duty — as sworn officers and as human beings — to intervene and save Floyd’s life.
Even though Chauvin could see that he was being filmed in front of a crowd, the smug look on his face seemed to convey a belief that he would face no accountability.
Why? Because the unfortunate reality is that even when police kill unarmed people, disproportionately Black men, they rarely suffer serious consequences. This is one of the many reasons why the U.S. has the highest rate of police-caused fatalities in the developed world by far.
As a state senator, I can do more than fight case-by-case against racist policing. My colleagues and I have the duty and the power to pass statewide legislation to help end racist policing.
Lawmakers are listening to communities of color and public policy experts about the best ways to stop police brutality.
There are several recommendations currently in the public dialogue, such as prohibiting local law enforcement agencies from acquiring surplus military equipment, banning chokeholds and no-knock searches, mandating the use of body cameras, investing in mental-health-crisis response, and improving de-escalation and anti-bias training. I support these much-needed reforms.
I am particularly focused on increasing accountability measures that have been far too lax for too long. Those include:
- Revoking state-issued certificates of officers who are fired for abusive use of force;
- Stopping the revolving door that allows fired officers to be reinstated through the police union appeal process;
- Making public all misconduct records so that officers can’t just resign and then go to work for another police department.
No more delays. Lawmakers must pass meaningful legislation in the next session to end police brutality. This violence perpetuated against the Black community at the hands of law enforcement must come to an end.