USA: Police ‘reform’ was always doomed to failure in a system built on racism – By Mohamed Hamaludin

By Mohamed Hamaludin

George Floyd’s May 25, 2020, killing provoked outrage, with massive crowds demonstrating here and abroad, demanding justice for Floyd and police reform. Justice came when his killer, Derek Chauvin, was tried and sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison, with three other officers facing lesser charges. But, on police reform, a Congressional effort to enact the necessary legislation has stalled in the Senate.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing bill, which the Democratic-led House passed since March, would ban tactics such as choke and carotid holds and no-knock warrants; improve police training; and fund community policing programs. The bill would also end “qualified immunity” which shields officers from most civil lawsuits; make it easier to prosecute officers accused of misconduct; ban racial, religious and discriminatory profiling and mandate training on such profiling.         

Also, the bill would require that officers carry body and dashboard cameras; create a national police misconduct registry; provide federal funds to help communities set up task forces to study reforms; and limit the extent of military-grade equipment given to the police. Such measures are popular but four months of bipartisan talks failed to agree on the bill, involving Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., who drafted the measure; Senator Corey Booker, D-N.J.); and Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C. Why only African Americans were selected for the negotiations is in itself instructive.

Scott, the only African American among 50 Republican Senators, could not reach a compromise, which was not surprising. The Republicans will never agree to wide-ranging reforms, regarding themselves as the guardians of all things law and order, and the police organizations have been allowed to grow so strong as to practically hold veto power over all things police which they use to scuttle reforms even though they know that while the overwhelming majority of officers conduct themselves professionally, it is also obvious that reform is needed.

Meanwhile, in the year since Floyd was murdered, police killed at least 1,068 people, Al Jazeera reported, citing the Mapping Police Violence data-collection organization, and there were at least 9,179 police-related deaths between January 2013 and May this year. The Washington Post database reported that police killed 430 Floridians since 2015.

African Americans comprise 13 percent of the population but were nearly three times as likely as European Americans to be killed by the police. Al Jazeera cited a policeviolencereport.org analysis showing that 27 percent of the victims of police killings were African Americans, of whom 35 percent were unarmed and 36 percent were less likely than others to be threatening someone when killed.

Yet, only 153 officers were charged and only 38 or 0.4 percent have been convicted, Al Jazeera added.

The next step is up to Democrats but they have few options because the bill will not pass without Republican support due to the Senate’s 50-50 split. Democrats can abolish the Senate procedure known as the filibuster, which allows the minority party to block legislation, but not all of them support such a move, notably Joseph Manchin III of West Virginia and Krysten Lea Sinema of Arizona, who, also for months, have been holding their president’s landmark Build Back Better agenda hostage.

The Democrats face a similar hurdle on another key measure, the John Lewis Voting Rights bill, which would invalidate legislation enacted or under consideration in several Republican-controlled states that clearly restrict voting by non-European Americans.

Those bills seek to expand democracy to all citizens. But such an expansion was never meant to happen, Tyler Stovall, a Fordham University history professor argues in his recently published book, “White Freedom.”  It was also the conclusion which the late distinguished attorney and civil rights crusader Derrick Bell came to decades ago, Columbia University professor Jelani Cobb writes in The New Yorker.

Bell earned widespread praise for his efforts to promote racial equality, especially his work with the Legal Defense and Education Fund starting in the 1960s as a young lawyer. But, Cobb explains, as Bell spent the second half of his career in academia, he eventually “drew an unsettling conclusion: racism is so deeply rooted in the makeup of American society that it has been able to reassert itself after each successive wave of reform aimed at eliminating it [and] is permanent.” Bell’s work in this area produced the framework for critical race theory, which conservatives have appropriated and deployed in their culture war.

If Bell, who died in 2011, were still alive, Cobb says, he “would have been less focused on the fact that white politicians responded to the reckoning by curtailing discussions of race in public schools than they did so in conjunction with a large effort to shore up the political structures that disadvantage African Americans.”

As Bell saw it, Cobb writes, “Diversity is not the same as redress … it could provide the appearance of equality while leaving the underlying machinery of inequality untouched.”

Bell, Cobb writes, was not overly enthusiastic about Barack Hussein Obama’s becoming president, noting this passage from Bell’s writings: “We can recognize [Obama’s] campaign as a significant moment like the civil rights protests, the 1963 March for Jobs and Justice in D.C., the Brown [school desegregation] decision, so many more great moments that, in retrospect, promised much more and, in the end, signified nothing except that the hostility and alienation toward black people continues in forms that frustrate thoughtful blacks and place the country every closer to its premature demise.”

Such pessimism foreshadowed Donald Trump’s presidency as a major step by the system to correct itself after Obama, Cobb suggests. It would also explain Manchin and Sinema’s recalcitrance towards Biden’s social safety net agenda – except this time it is pre-emptive.

Unless the Democrats can agree at least to suspend the filibuster or win working majorities in Congress in 2022, there is little chance that any meaningful legislative proposals to at least halt the seemingly inexorable march towards indefinite minority European American rule will become law.

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who worked for several years at The Guyana Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating in 1984 to the United States, where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a column for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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Comments

  • wic  On 11/03/2021 at 1:45 pm

    What a short or selective memory Mr. Hamuludin! perhaps, he can get away with that as most folk of his era of writing in Guyana, have passed on or just simply can’t be trouble to comment. However, there are a few who recall he fled from Guyana in the 1970’s for fear of reprisals from the PNC’s govt.

    While drafting his article on the police in the US, how could he forget St. Clair Batson known as Fairbain, who was tortured at the hands of the police at the Brickdam Police Station? even though medical evidence confirmed physical abuse, no one was brought to justice for their deeds.

    All over the world, the police are used as agents of suppression and a racism is claimed but not always true, when there are various racial groupings involved. Its a fact of life however, that there are some very bad people in this world who are outlaws and don’t respect established rules of society. There were the outlaws of the Old West in the US who were white and who prevailed until suppressed, the Dacoit of India, still around but quiet in recent years, the Mafia of various countries and the gangs in the US and South America who are currently very active and out of control. There are also those in Guyana who according to world statistics, have made Guyana the 5th most dangerous country in the world.

    Who but law enforcement officers are to provide security for a country’s citizens? of course, it’s a losing battle particularly in societies where for murder, capital punishment has been abolished and life imprisonment means a maximum of 25 years. Kill any more than one and you get freebees for the others.

    No doubt many police cross legal lines, but Floyd wasn’t a black hero. He was a life long criminal, convicted of rape and other crimes on many occasions. How he exited the world was definitely Unacceptable and he is now portrayed as a hero with his family and their lawyers benefitting financially. I have no doubt that when the settlement was made, the family’s lawyers arranged it such a manner that the payout was insulated from all of Floyd’s previous victims, including the kid he tried to rip off.

    As we used to say in the Guyana: every story has three sides, your side, my side and the truth somewhere in the middle. It would be interesting to know Mr. Hamuludin’s views on how to improve the public’s safety in Guyana

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