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The murder of George Floyd by four police officers in Minnesota has been a rallying call for massive protests and legislation against police brutality and racial profiling. Lawmakers at the state and federal level are now working to push legislation and trimmed budgets aimed at holding police departments accountable.
The North Star has found a few states that are working to hold police departments accountable for their actions. These reforms and budget cuts are not limited to Colorado or New York and are being seen in cities small and large.
Colorado Democrats were quick to draft a bill that would radically change how law enforcement in the state operates and investigates police brutality. Democrats introduced SB 20-217, a law enforcement accountability bill, on June 3 that would force police officers to wear body-cameras and would require recordings to be released to the public within 14 days.
The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Leslie Herod (D) and Senate President Leroy Garcia (D), included several other provisions, including:
- Creating an annual data report on use of force, resignations during investigations of policy violations, stops and unannounced police entries
- Preventing police officers from using chokeholds
- Requiring officers to use deadly physical force only when necessary to effect an arrest or prevent escape from custody when the person is using a deadly weapon or likely to imminently cause danger to life or serious bodily injury.
- Requiring the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to establish a database that tracks officers who have been decertified, continued to fail to follow training requirements or have been fired
- Requiring officers to intervene when fellow law enforcement officer acts unlawfully
“What this bill will do is really hold our enforcement accountable and demand integrity from our law enforcement officers,” Herod told The North Star. “We are removing the qualified immunity provisions in the state that shield police officers from accountability.”
Herod explained that the bill removes “fleeing felon” rule that allow officers to shoot someone in the back if they’re getting away. “These are, you know, vestiges of slavery…and Jim Crow. Where if someone looks a certain way, you think that they’re a felon, they’re running away, you can shoot them in the back,” she said. “Instead, we’re putting the imminent danger requirement in the bill.”
The state representative told The North Star that if an officer uses deadly physical force without imminent danger, then that officer will lose their qualified immunity and will be open for criminal and civil charges.
“This isn’t only about what’s going on in other states,” Garcia told The Denver Post. “This is about what’s happening in our own backyards. We shouldn’t need body cams to catch the lack of law enforcement integrity. if we sit idly by and do nothing to address police brutality, the profession’s reputation will continue to erode, and that’s not good for anyone.”
Tom Raynes, who is in charge of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, expressed his concerns about the bill in a statement to The Colorado Sun. He admitted, however, that there were parts of the bill that prosecutors could agree with.
“Law enforcement and prosecutors have various concerns over the breadth and the sweeping nature of all the element of this bill,” Raynes said. “Almost any section of this bill could be a two to three to four month conversation in itself. There’s a wariness of jamming this through in five to seven days.”
Herod told The Colorado Sun that she has spoken to the law enforcement community about the legislation but noted that their opinion will not stop her from introducing the bill.
“As an elected body, it is our responsibility to take action,” Herod said to The North Star. “It would be irresponsible, and quite frankly, negligent of us to not respond when the community has said very clearly what needs to happen.”
Protesters in New York have called for the repeal of 50-a, a law that protects police records, as well as the defunding of the police department.
Calls for 50-a to be repealed are nothing new, but the latest protests against police brutality have renewed discussions about doing away with the controversial measure. The law prevents the release of all personnel records that can be used to evaluate the performance of police officers, firefighters and corrections officers without a court order, according to WPIX 11.
50-a has had the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), as well as that of NYPD and city police unions. On June 1, 85 organizations signed a letter to the state assembly and senate urging lawmakers to reconvene the Legislature and repeal 50-a.
“The blatant police violence experienced by New Yorkers is unacceptable. The continued police secrecy in New York enables that police violence and allows abusive officers to continue to act with impunity. We should be able to look up the misconduct and disciplinary records of every officer who mass-pepper sprayed, assaulted, blatantly covered their badge numbers and engaged in other abuse of authority and violence against New Yorkers,” the letter stated. “Instead, we are left in the dark and abusive police officers are given special rights and shielded because of 50-a.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said that he would sign a repeal or reform bill of 50-a if it reaches his desk.
Elected officials, racial justice leaders and the families of New Yorkers killed by police are also calling for the NYPD to be defunded. The mothers of Ramarley Graham and Mohammad Bah, as well as the sister of Delrawn Small asked that funds be redirected to the community.
In a statement on June 3, Communities United for Police Reform urged broad cuts to the NYPD’s $6 billion budget. The organization called for at least $1 billion in cuts to the NYPD’s FY21 budget to be redirected to public infrastructure, a social safety net and services for communities most impacted by police brutality and COVID-19.
“This is all very real to me, not only because the NYPD murdered my brother and my tax dollars still going to pay Wayne Isaacs’ salary, but also because I have a 9-year-old son,” Victoria Davis, Small’s sister, said in the statement. “Right now, money that could be used to support him to grow and thrive – for example, for community-based summer programs for children – is going to the NYPD so they can criminalize him and other Black children.”
Calls to defund police departments are not only gaining steam in New York, but are also becoming more popular in other states. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) announced that the LAPD’s budget will not increase and will instead be slashed by as much as $250 million, NPR reported.
How to Help
The best way to get these reforms passed is by making your voice heard. Rep. Herod in Colorado urged constituents to call their representatives and push them to support police reform legislation.
“We need them to hear you support this bill because right now they are getting calls from law enforcement officers across the state, telling them to kill the bill or they will quit their jobs,” she told The North Star. “So we need people to reach out, we need people to activate and we need them to speak out about police brutality and demand a yes vote on the bill.”
This is the second of two pieces looking at what lawmakers at the federal and state level are doing to hold police accountable, tackle police brutality and redirect law enforcement funds back into the communities they are meant to serve.
At the end of each story about the Black Lives Matter protests occurring around the country, we will share the following information on how best to protect yourself:
Protecting Yourself From Tear Gas
- Before being exposed: Do not wear contact lenses or makeup. This could trap the tear gas on your skin and eyes. Try to wear protective goggles if possible. Remember to wear a mask, which you should already be wearing to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Wear long sleeves and long pants to protect as much of your skin as possible.
- If exposed: Get yourself out of the area immediately. The CDC recommends seeking higher ground as most Riot Control Agents (RCAs) are heavier than air.
- Clothing: The RCAs will have contaminated your clothing, be sure to remove the clothes as soon as possible and discard. Clothing that needs to be removed over the head should be cut instead. The CDC recommends wearing rubber gloves and putting the contaminated clothes in a bag and then seal that bag in another bag.
- Exposed Skin: The International News Safety Institute recommends washing with soap and water. First, shower in cold water and then in warm water. Do not bathe. Wash your face as soon as you can, but do not rub the skin as you don’t want to activate the powder in tear gas. Do not rinse your eyes and face with milk, instead use water.
Protecting Yourself: Technology Edition
- Smartphone: Smartphones can easily give out information that police can later use against protesters. Turn off your location data and remove facial and fingerprint recognition. If you need to communicate with friends or family, be sure to download and use the Signal app, which encrypts messages. WIRED recommends Android users head to Settings, then Security and make sure the Encrypt Disk option is selected.
- Social Media: Do not post photos or videos with geotags and consider blurring the faces of protesters when sharing information on social media.
- Police Conduct App: The ACLU has created the Mobile Justice app to record police conduct. You can learn more about the app here.
- Identifying Clothing or Tattoos: It is highly recommended you wear clothing that is not easily identifiable. Be sure to cover any tattoos that can be used by law enforcement to identify you.
- In Case You’re Arrested: Write the number down of a lawyer, organization or friend/family member that you can call if you’re arrested on your skin. Be sure to have a form of ID in your pocket.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.