The emerging movement for police and prison abolition

By | May 8, 2021

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes:

The murder of George Floyd last spring provoked an unprecedented outpouring of protests, and a rare national reckoning with both racism and police violence. Public officials across the country pledged police reform. On April 20th, Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, was found guilty of murder. It is rare for police to be prosecuted, let alone punished. I remember my incredulous reaction, in 1992, when my mother called to tell me that the four police officers who beat Rodney King, in Los Angeles, were found not guilty. I remember, in the summer of 2013, being at a Chicago restaurant, having dinner with my wife, and feeling the numbing shock of seeing in real time, on television, George Zimmerman acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin. We left the restaurant to join a protest downtown, crossing the street to catch the train. When I walked through the turnstile, a Black woman wearing the uniform of the Chicago Transit Authority looked at me with tears in her eyes, and mouthed, “They let him get away with it.” For most ordinary African-Americans who have watched helplessly, for years, as police act with violent impunity in their communities, the conviction of Chauvin feels like justice long delayed. For Floyd’s family, the verdict came as a relief. Philonise Floyd said that the conviction “makes us happier knowing that his life, it mattered, and he didn’t die in vain.”

In a certain sense, the trial of Chauvin has been viewed as a piece of a national reform strategy. There is a hope that his conviction will serve as evidence that police do not operate above the law and that they can be subjected to its punishments. But if it takes tens of millions of people marching, and an extraordinary recording capturing Chauvin’s cool torpor as Floyd’s life left his body, to secure some measure of legal accountability for the police, then what does this conviction mean for the transformation of American policing? In effect, Chauvin had to be convicted for it to remain even remotely credible that, in the United States, the law protects the rights of African-Americans. Pursuing such an outcome allowed Chauvin’s employers and supervisors to disavow him, describing him as a rogue cop who had abandoned his training. “Policing is a noble profession,” the prosecutor Steven Schleicher said at the trial. “Make no mistake, this is not a prosecution of the police—it is a prosecution of the defendant. And there’s nothing worse for good police than bad police.”

Days into the protracted spectacle of the Chauvin trial, the police killing of an unarmed twenty-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, ten miles north of Minneapolis, in the suburb of Brooklyn Center, sparked fresh protests. The details of that latest outrage bore all the markings of the sanguinary and absurd cycle of racist police violence. Consider that police stopped Wright’s car because of some minor technicality often used a pretext for racial profiling, that they threatened him with arrest because of an existing warrant, and that, in the most tragic turn of events, the officer who killed Wright claimed to confuse her Taser with her gun. Within hours of his murder, the chief of police and the officer who pulled the trigger, Kim Potter, had resigned their jobs, and Potter was subsequently arrested for second-degree manslaughter. The quick resignation and arrest are other indications that things are not quite the same regarding the police, but nothing that led to the confrontation and the ultimately death of Wright has been undone. [Continue reading…]

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