The United States, today, is more divided as a nation than it has been in recent memory. The death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis, as a result of police brutality was followed by nation-wide protests, even as the pandemic raged, and there were instances of violence by the protestors and the police. While the White House has tried to portray the protests as a breakdown of law and order, large sections of America see this moment for what it is: An explosion of anger and despair at the systematic discrimination and othering of people of colour, especially with regard to the criminal justice system. The majority decision by the City Council in Minneapolis, its pledge to dismantle the police department, is an attempt to address that despair. Yet, there are better, even if more arduous, ways to make policing and justice more equal, more rooted in and responsive to local communities.
The current protests have once again brought to the fore the degree to which police forces in the US treat social and economic inequality as a crime. True change can only come through sustained reform that is both bottom-up and top-down, and is a constant work in progress. In the UK, for instance, a beginning was made with the Police Reform and Responsibility Act, 2011, making the police more responsible and responsive to local communities. In the US on Tuesday, Democrats introduced in Congress the Justice in Policing Act. The proposed law makes it much easier to prosecute police for misconduct, bans chokeholds, and addresses racism. It also makes body and dash-cams compulsory and bans the sale of military weapons to police departments.
The proposed law could be a step, among many, towards healing a wounded society. But it will be a long haul, as US President Donald Trump’s reaction to it on Twitter, underlined: “…the Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police. Sorry, I want LAW & ORDER!” It is also unclear whether the Senate — where Republicans are the majority — will support the Bill. Yet, if the world’s oldest democracy is to listen to all its citizens, and if it is to convince them that both state and society can come together to atone for an injustice and to mitigate it, the new law may be a necessary step. The system has to show to its citizens that it has the will and the mechanisms to change for the better.
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