Monday’s death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man pinned to the ground by a police officer applying a knee to his neck, underscores a disturbing reality: Many Americans believe such fatal outcomes are inevitable when confrontations occur between people of color and law enforcement.
For us, as well, this moment feels tragically familiar.
More than five years ago, as the nation wrestled with the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama asked us to lead a task force on policing in the 21st century. Our work produced 59 recommendations addressing the use of force, officer accountability and training on fair and impartial policing, among other things. But while we’ve seen promising changes in law enforcement since then, it’s painfully clear that we still have far to go.
Minimum standards needed
One priority is the establishment of national norms for policing. Although policing in our country is fundamentally local — there are 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. — we need consistent guidelines to set thresholds for what constitutes professional and acceptable conduct for police officers. Such standards could help rid the ranks of bad actors.
We do see some reasons for hope in the response to Floyd’s death. One is the response by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. They immediately condemned the police conduct and fired not just the officer who pinned Floyd down but also three officers who stood by as Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe.