In the wake of unprecedented civil action across the country after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, more than 200 people representing civil rights organizations, community organizers, elected officials, and public defenders sent letters to mayors, police chiefs, and county and sheriffs’ associations on Friday, asking them to take immediate action to decrease police presence and refocus on a good-faith effort to restore public safety.
The letters, sent to associations representing mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs, and county boards, outline policy proposals that mirror the demands protesters have been making in response to the police killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon Reed, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery (killed by a former cop), and David McAtee.
“The solutions we need right now both to protect our safety and to rescue our democracy are ones that meet the scale of the problem,” read the letters, which were sent to the National Sheriffs’ Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association. To respond to recent police killings, it goes on, “we must replace the questions about how to reform policing with questions about what a broader vision for safety and justice in America should look like and what role policing should play in it.”
Signatories on the letters, which were led by the Justice Collaborative, a policy group that advocates for changes to the criminal justice system, include San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and New York state Sen. Julia Salazar, along with hundreds of academics, faith leaders, and other organizers.
The proposals focus on five areas of efforts to radically reform the police state including defunding police and reprioritizing budgets, ending “no knock” raids, providing funding for non-law enforcement emergency responders, making police union negotiations public, and implementing community-based violence prevention solutions.
The demand to end “no knock” raids comes in the wake of the Louisville Metro Police Department’s killing of Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT. She was shot on March 13 at least eight times in her home after police conducting a drug raid entered the wrong house on an illegal no-knock warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, reportedly fired back at the intruders entering their home and was arrested immediately. He was charged with attempted murder of a police officer. The charges were later dropped, and Walker was released from home incarceration on May 26.
The letter is in stark contrast to the praise being heaped on law enforcement by major media organizations, mayors of major metropolitan cities — like Bill de Blasio, whose daughter was arrested and doxxed by the New York Police Department — and President Donald Trump, even as police have responded to protests with brute force. Organizers who signed the letter say their approach is the most productive and least harmful.
“Praising the police is not, in my view, the answer at the moment,” said Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University. “In a way, the best way to sort of pay homage to [Floyd’s] memory, and to really effectuate the wishes of the protesters, and to really promote some meaningful reform, is to act now … while people are listening, and people’s eyes are open to these issues.”
“As we work toward minimizing the centuries of discrimination that have created that situation … we also have to, I think, address the immediate issue of police brutality.”
Rather than praising law enforcement, Medwed said, the answer is to get “at the underlying causes of police brutality, especially with respect to African Americans. And it ties in directly to systemic racism and institutionalized racism. And maybe as we work toward minimizing the centuries of discrimination that have created that situation, while we’re doing that, and having those conversations, we also have to, I think, address the immediate issue of police brutality.”
The recent spate of police shootings has highlighted a split between activists and scholars who have long advocated for prison and police abolition, and those who believe in piecemeal reforms, like use of force and bias trainings — or what abolitionist and prison scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls “reformist reforms.”
Non-reformist reforms seek abolition as an end goal, and include defunding and demilitarizing the police — a demand that has long been considered politically impossible but has entered mainstream discourse over the last week and is reflected in the letters sent Friday.
The letter to police chiefs asks them to help curb the power of police unions. “Making sure that unions aren’t as powerful so that you can keep bad apples on the force, and prevent robust oversight and disciplinary action,” Medwed said.
Cities across the country are reeling, not just because of the most recent killings, but because of a long history of the same disturbing incidents of police brutality with little to no accountability, Medwed said, citing a handful of cases going back more than 20 years, including the rape in police custody of a Haitian immigrant in 1997 and the more recent killing of Eric Garner in New York City.
“Every city has its own slate of issues,” Medwed said. “But there is this common theme and common ground here that does relate to the police in the United States having too much power, being too heavily weaponized, and being too protected by their unions. And that’s what’s really undergirding this letter: this idea of finding common ground and striking while the iron is hot.”