After years of Black Lives Matter and numerous cases of police brutality with seemingly little to no change at all, protesting can start to feel disheartening. Social media campaigns and marches only go so far; after all, real change happens in legislature. We need lawmakers to rectify current laws to hold police accountable and set strict, enforceable guidelines for use of force on unarmed civilians.
In recent weeks, phrases like “defund the police” and “police reform” have become increasingly common, but without extensive knowledge of budget allocations and legislature, it can be difficult to visualize what they actually mean.
For London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco, police reform began on June 11, 2020, with a proposal to reduce police confrontation within the community by hiring unarmed professionals trained to respond to noncriminal calls involving issues such as mental health emergencies or neighbor disputes. Breed also advocated banning the use of military-grade weapons such as tear gas by police against civilians.
Within the last week, Louisiana Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, proposed House Bill 51 which sought to curtail the use of qualified immunity in state court cases which claimed wrongful death or injury. Though the bill gained the support of many young activist groups and even Rep. Cedric Richmond, the Louisiana House Civil Law & Procedure Committee voted to kill the bill after concerns were raised by the Louisiana Sheriffs Association.
Though not as drastic or as obviously progressive as San Francisco’s efforts, Louisiana legislators pushing for reform have not been entirely unsuccessful. The week before Jordan’s proposal of House Bill 51, Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge proposed a study of policing which, after some stripping and revisions by the Republicans and some backlash from Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, and others, was allowed to advance.
These steps towards reform are exciting, but more conservative states like Louisiana still feel impossibly far from accepting the need for and actually implementing police reform. Recent House activity has shown that very clearly – we can barely get a study proposal through the doors currently. Even the current measures in place meant to provide checks on the authority and power of the police aren’t being properly implemented.
The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) boasts on its website that it holds its officers accountable and provides “Transparency in Policing” by providing the public access to raw police data, but the data sets aren’t kept up to date. The Use of Force data set hasn’t been updated since February 11, 2020, and the NOPD Misconduct Complaints data set hasn’t been updated since January 6, 2020.
The Baton Rouge Police Department hasn't been anymore successful or transparent with the public. After the protests and violence following the murder of Alton Sterling in 2016, people demanded change and got nothing. State and federal prosecutors declined to press charges against officer Blane Salamoni despite his history of violence and unprofessionalism. It took three years before a settlement resulting in Salamoni's termination was reached, but no real change in policing or legislature appeared.
Louisiana is not the only southern state struggling with reform. Earlier this month, Atlanta, Ga., faced major issues following the shooting of Rayshard Brooks outside of a drive-thru. The Police Chief, Erika Shields, resigned within twenty-four hours because the mayor demanded the resignation of the police officer involved. The protests following the incident became violent and a Wendy's was burned to the ground. People have had enough of the vicious cycle of police brutality without seeing any differences in policing, they're ready for real change.
On May 6, Sean Reed, was shot by Indianapolis Police while live streaming on Facebook. No dash cam or body cam footage captured the event. On May 8, Finan H. Berhe was shot and killed by Montgomery County Police. On May 25, the final straw for many Americans, George Floyd was murdered slowly and painfully by having his neck knelt on by a police officer.
Transparency and accountability are exactly what we’re looking for from our local police enforcement, but four-month-old data sets aren’t going to cut it anymore. Body cams were supposed to hold police accountable and yet atrocities are still occurring every day.
No one - police, civilian or otherwise - should be allowed to hide behind vague language and prevent the due course of the law.
It’s the police’s job to enforce laws so they of all people shouldn’t be exempt. They should be held to a higher standard of compliance because of their positions of authority and supposed intimate knowledge of the law.
Marie Plunkett is a 21-year-old Classical Studies major from New Orleans, Louisiana.