Race and Policing
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During summer 2020, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many other Black Americans sparked a national dialogue around the failings of the U.S. criminal justice system. People nationwide joined together in protest of police violence, calling for a new approach to safety and justice. During this crucial moment, the Center for American Progress, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation virtually gathered 1,000 advocates, researchers, artists, and practitioners for the Innovations Conference, a multiday exploration of what it means to reimagine public safety and shrink the footprint of the justice system.In the months that followed, public protests, spirited discussions, and grassroots campaigns led to remarkable policy changes across the country. Although the work is far from done, the movement has tangibly reshaped the nation's approach to justice and safety, offering a powerful example of community activism and civic engagement in action. This article breaks down five major issues that have shaped the national conversation around safety and justice, weaving in voices from the Innovations Conference to provide a snapshot of the country's progress to date and the pathway forward.
Progress in removing explicit racism from law enforcement has clearly been made since the civil rights era, when Ku Klux Klan–affiliated officers were far too common. But, as Georgetown University law professor Vida B. Johnson argues, "The system can never achieve its purported goal of fairness while white supremacists continue to hide within police departments." Trust in the police remains low among people of color, who are often victims of police violence and abuse and are disproportionately underserved as victims of crime. The failure of law enforcement to adequately respond to racist violence and hate crimes or properly police white supremacist riots in cities across the United States over the last several years has left many Americans concerned that bias in law enforcement is pervasive. This report examines the law enforcement response to racist behavior, white supremacy, and far-right militancy within the ranks and recommends policy solutions to inform a more effective response.
The work of law enforcement involves countless and risky low-visibility duties. Over the last three years, however, members of the public have brought increased attention to incidents of police-community conflict, violence, and misconduct, sparked by several high-profile deaths of people of color, many of them unarmed, during seemingly routine police encounters. These incidents—many of which were captured unfiltered on video and widely disseminated—have resulted in scrutiny of police officer behavior and, in particular, have reignited a debate over the extent to which police may use deadly force against civilians. At the same time, killings of police officers in New York City, Dallas, and Baton Rouge increased concerns about officer safety. Concerned that eroding public trust impedes relationship-building with the community, 34 states and the District of Columbia enacted at least 79 bills, executive orders, or resolutions in 2015 and 2016 to change some aspect of policing policy or practice—a marked contrast to the relatively few laws related to policing that were passed by states between 2012 and 2014.
The Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement (the Panel) was established as an advisory body to the San Francisco District Attorney in May 2015 in the wake of revelations that 14 San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers had exchanged numerous racist and homophobic text messages. Over a one-year period, the Panel examined a number of different aspects of the SFPD to try to develop a comprehensive understanding of the issue, interviewing more than 100 witnesses and reviewing thousands of public documents. The result is this report. Its findings and recommendations strive to give credit where credit is due, but point to several unmistakable conclusions: the SFPD is in need of greater transparency; lacks robust oversight; must rebuild trust with the communities it serves; and should pay greater attention to issues of bias against people of color, both officers and members of the public. In short, the Panel concludes that the SFPD is in urgent need of important reforms.
Much of the national debate on policing in 2015 has rested on a false premise—that community demands for greater police accountability come at the expense of effectively addressing crime. In fact, police need accountability and legitimacy in the communities they serve if they are to deliver safety. While policing is a local governmental function, federal policymakers have an important role to play in helping policing practice reflect this truth. The next president will have a wide range of funding, agenda setting, and enforcement tools that can elevate and spread the best in policing and compel reform where necessary.
This paper examines the research on the costs and benefits of police body cameras, arguing that the devices can, if properly deployed and regulated, provide a valuable disincentive to police abuses as well as valuable evidence for punishing abuses when they occur.
People of color are overrepresented in our criminal justice system. One in three African American men born today will be incarcerated in his lifetime. In some cities, African Americans are ten times more likely to be arrested when stopped by police. With the national debate national focused on race, crime, and punishment, criminal justice experts are examining how to reduce racial disparities in our prisons and jails, which often serve as initial entry points for those who become entangled in the criminal justice system.This report, which relies on input from 25 criminal justice leaders, pinpoints the drivers of racial disparities in our jails, lays out common sense reforms to reduce this disparity, including increasing public defense representation for misdemeanor offenses, encouraging prosecutors to prioritize serious and violent offenses, limiting the use of pretrial detention, and requiring training to reduce racial bias for all those involved in running our justice system.
A toolkit for organizers, elected officials, and community members seeking to enact local law enforcement policy reforms. The report outlines fifteen reforms in five areas -- ending mass criminalization, safe and just police interactions, community control, independent oversight, and improving police practices -- ranging from the application of a racial impact tool for all criminal justice legislation and bans on bias-based policing, to the use of body cameras and special or independent prosecutors, to improved training for police officers. The report also provides resources and questions for those working to develop campaigns around specific policy reforms as well as community-based alternatives to policing.
This report chronicles the racial disparity that permeates every stage of the United States criminal justice system, from arrest to trial to sentencing. In particular, the report highlights the influence of implicit racial bias and recounts the findings of the burgeoning scholarship on the role of such bias in the criminal justice system. The report then details the ways in which the Supreme Court of the United States has curtailed potential remedies by discounting the importance of implicit bias and requiring that intentional discrimination be proven in constitutional challenges. Finally, the report offers recommendations on ways that federal, state, and local officials in the United States can work to eliminate racial disparity in the criminal justice system and uphold its obligations under the Covenant.