States Have Passed Little Police Reform Despite Protests

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Racial justice activists convulsed the nation this summer with protests against police brutality. They don’t have much to show for it in terms of major policy change, Politico reports. Congress and most state legislatures have taken no action. Activists attribute the inaction to pushback from powerful police unions and poor timing. When George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day, at least 23 state legislatures had already adjourned. A handful of legislatures have since held special sessions to address issues like coronavirus and police reform. Advocates hope reforms that went unaddressed will be revisited next year, but there is a risk that the moment sparked by Floyd’s death may have passed. A majority of Americans told a Gallup Poll in July that “major changes” to policing were needed. Public opinion has retrenched. After a summer surge in popularity for Black Lives Matter, a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll this month showed that favorable views of BLM dropped nine percentage points since June.

Activists involved in state battles acknowledged that change won’t come any easier next year. Police unions “have pushed back on every single piece of reform” in Massachusetts in 2020, said Jamarhl Crawford of the Boston Police Reform Task Force. “If we can’t win now,” he said, “we suck.” Criminal justice organizer Scott Roberts of Color of Change also pointed the finger at the unions, who “haven’t seen a reform yet that they like … The police unions aren’t really a group that’s going to come to the table and say, ‘Hey, let’s compromise.’ … I would classify them as extremists, frankly.” Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis acknowledged unions “carry a lot of sway” but said much legislation has passed that unions have opposed. Several states have passed measures restricting how police restrain individuals, and some have mandated use of body-worn cameras.

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