One week from today will mark the third anniversary of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Officer Derek Chauvin and three other officers in Minneapolis. The murder sparked the largest protest movement in American history, with between 15-26 million people participating over a year-long period of protests in cities across the country. For a moment, politicians and commentators from all sides – from Sean Hannity to Rachel Maddow – united in their disgust and anger over the videotape that showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes. It seemed that long overdue efforts to reform police training and behavior would finally have broad-based support.
Three years later, where do efforts stand on reform and reducing police brutality and violence? The record is mixed, simultaneously offering some glimmers of hope as well as a serious cause for concern.
At the state level, Connecticut has made some progress. In 2020, Gov. Ned Lamont signed House Bill 6004, An Act Concerning Police Accountability into law. The bill includes provisions that require dashcams and bodycams for police, bans chokeholds and strangleholds, and creates civilian review boards that can subpoena records from the police, among other elements.
However, many felt that these efforts didn’t go far enough. In that same year, the state created the Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force. The task force was given two years to investigate 12 different aspects of policing in Connecticut, including police interactions with the mentally ill and disabled, the ways in which police handle traffic stops, and requiring officers and municipalities to carry liability insurance. Their findings were issued in a final report in 2022.
As of this writing, none of the recommendations from the Police Transparency Task Force have been implemented. The closest any recommendation came was a bill introduced to eliminate traffic stops for “secondary” motor vehicle violations such as broken headlights, seatbelt violations, and other situations that don’t pose a threat to other drivers. The hope was that by decreasing the number of traffic stops, police could get a handle on the disproportionate number of African Americans who are pulled over in the state. The bill failed to pass the state senate two weeks ago.
At the federal level, there has been even less progress. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was introduced in 2021. Legislators aimed to end no-knock warrants (such as the one that resulted in the death of Breonna Taylor just weeks before Floyd’s), give the Justice Department the ability to subpoena police departments based on a “pattern or practice” of bias, and a host of other reforms. That bill managed to pass the House of Representatives but died in the Senate. Other bills aimed at reducing police brutality and bias have also failed. The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which would have set limits on the kinds of surplus military equipment that local police can purchase, and the Qualified Immunity Acts of 2021 and 2023, which would have reformed the laws that protect police from civil liability, have gained little traction.
Meanwhile, killings by police have not only continued, but they’ve also increased. According to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit research group that tracks killings by officers, police killed 1,176 people in 2022 – the highest number recorded since the initiative began a decade ago. The problem is actively getting worse, yet leaders at every level of government are failing to reign in the absolute worst abuses by police despite clear evidence that they must do so.
Police brutality, abuse, and killings are a problem for all Americans. African Americans and other groups face disproportionate targeting and force by police, but the unchecked violence of those trusted to protect and serve falls on everyone. Ask yourself this: do you feel good when you see police lights flashing in your neighborhood or as you drive? No one should fear that an interaction with police will be their last.