For the past few weeks, the United States has been rocked by protests calling for justice against the victims of police brutality and racist policies that have been built into the very infrastructure of the country. The violence inflicted on Black bodies by systemic racism has been ongoing for centuries. George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minn., which closely followed the reprehensible murders of Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020 and Breonna Taylor on March 13, 2020, sparked massive outrage from the public that has positively affected dialogues around racism, law enforcement, and policy.
Cleveland, OH mayor, Frank Johnson, and Boston, Mass. mayor, Marty Walsh, have both declared racism a public health crisis. Racism is not solely an ideology; it is policy. Access to housing, jobs, health care, and education are all determined by racial policies. Change in legislation is the only thing that can combat this.
Ibram X. Kendi states that in order to produce racial equity, we must be actively antiracist and change and abolish policies that promote racism, for racism is inherent in the system and racist ideologies stem from racist policies. These nationwide protests have done just this; in only a few weeks, protests have powerfully impacted policy-making.
While Breonna Taylor’s murderers have yet to be arrested, the Louisville, Ky. metro council unanimously voted to pass “Breonna’s Law” on June 11, 2020 which effectively bans no-knock search warrants in the city. Breonna, 26, was fatally shot eight times by Louisville police after they forced their way into her home while she was asleep with her boyfriend on the basis of a no-knock warrant. The police officers raided the wrong home, a full ten miles off their target, and the person they were searching for had already been detained by the time police entered Breonna’s home.
“Breonna’s Law” is one of many small-scale and large-scale policy changes that will ultimately pave the way for an antiracist system to be in place. Here are some other reforms that have been addressed or initiated as a result of the demands and actions that have been made possible by declaring #BlackLivesMatter.
Minneapolis has decided to disband its police force and rebuild a new law enforcement, among other things.
On June 7, the city of Minneapolis announced they will dismantle their police force and rebuild law enforcement – a decision made following public pressure to “defund the police,” a movement that promotes the reallocation of police funding toward more community-building services. Police budgets are sometimes exorbitant; the Minneapolis Police Department budget is $1.6 billion. “Defunding” their police force would mean taking a portion of that budget and putting it toward things like training mental health professionals, public schools, and social workers. Providing more funding for these services would also reduce crime and poverty in the long term. Camden, N.J. initiated a police reform seven years ago that is similar to what the “defund the police” movement calls for. The city disbanded its police force in an attempt to root out corruption. Camden was one of the most violent cities in the country, but their community based reforms caused the crime rate to drop by 42%.
Minneapolis public schools have already taken one measure of reform: terminating their contract with the Police Department following George Floyd’s death. Citing a difference in values, the school board unanimously voted to end their relationship with the MPD. Portland and Denver public schools have followed suit, and many school districts across the US are considering the same.
New York announces new disciplinary measures.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a reform measure that would make disciplinary records for police public, ban chokeholds, make race-based 911 calls a hate crime, and require the NY Attorney General to act as an independent prosecutor for police officers accused of murder. Chokeholds were already banned in New York in 1993 according to police protocol, but this is now coming directly from the government and would criminalize this use of force. This is a four-step policy enactment entitled, “Say Their Name,” rhetoric taken directly from the language of protestors.
Some states are implementing policies that hold the police accountable.
The Phoenix, Ariz. City Council will be funding $3 million to a new police civilian oversight board; the Lincoln, Neb. Police Department has signed an agreement with city community members to create a “Hold Cops Accountable” initiative in which monthly town halls will be held for city residents to provide feedback for police. In Texas, the Austin City Council has cut budgets for hiring new cops and cut funding for weapons used against protestors such as tear gas, which is already banned by the Geneva Convention, and rubber bullets. A number of cities around the country are also introducing bills to ban tear gas, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades, and bean-bag rounds.
In addition, Minneapolis and other cities around the country, such as Washington, DC, Chicago, and more, have banned neck restraints and the carotid control hold. In many areas, like Aurora, Colo., Reno, Nev., and San Jose, Calif., it is becoming policy that police must also now give warnings before shooting and officers are required to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force. It is unbelievable that these policies were not in place all along.
Congress is making moves to target police misconduct.
On the larger scale, on June 8, Democrats in congress revealed a legislative bill that would reform police as we currently know it. This bill would ban chokeholds at the federal level, make it easier to sue police officers who abuse their power, and get rid of qualified immunity.
Military leaders are delinking themselves from racist symbols.
The US Marine Corps and Navy finally officially banned the display of the confederate flag in public and in workspaces. The Army is also considering this policy. There is now a movement to rename confederate military bases and while Donald Trump has outright refused this demand, military leaders are still considering it.
Racist statues across the globe are increasingly being torn down.
On a different level, confederate and racist symbols around the country are being torn down and effectively banned by protesters, even governments. The tearing down of confederate monuments has been ongoing for a number of years, but the Black Lives Matter movement has inspired an urgency and devotion to these acts. On the University of Mississippi campus, a confederate monument was painted with the words “spiritual genocide” and red handprints. The statue of confederate General Williams Carter Wickham was torn down by protestors in Richmond, Va. Also in Richmond, a statue of Christopher Columbus was set on fire then thrown into a lake; and in Boston, a statue of Columbus was beheaded. Lawmakers and government officials are promising to get rid of certain racist monuments and symbols. For example, the mayor of Birmingham will be tearing down a five-story monument dedicated to confederate troops despite backlash from the Alabama Attorney General. Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia, Pa. has taken down a statue and removed a mural of Frank Rizzo, a former Philadelphia mayor whose racist policies led to the violent policing of Black and minority communities.
#BlackLivesMatter protests in the US has had a global impact. Countries like New Zealand and England have been actively protesting racial inequity, as well. Statues and monuments are also toppling in England, including one in Bristol of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, and one of Robert Miligan in London, who was a slave owner.
We are witnessing the largest changes in policy at the local level, which has the most impact on the success of individual communities. Ferguson, Miss. just elected their first Black mayor, Ella Jones, six years after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the grand jury’s refusal to indict the white officer who killed Brown incited protests and uprisings. Jones ran on a platform of inclusion and her election is a symbol of hope for Ferguson and the country as a whole.
In short, antiracism must be embedded into the system through policy. And that change in policy can only come from the people who practice anti-racism themselves. So let’s keep going. This is only the beginning. Keep signing petitions; keep donating; keep educating yourself and others about racial inequity; keep people accountable; keep information flowing through social media and other digital media platforms; keep protesting. It is working. Things are changing. Continue to be antiracist.