George Floyd’s murder led to a national reckoning on policing, but efforts have stalled or reversed

Four years ago, protests erupted across the country after millions of Americans watched the chilling video of George Floyd’s murder – with Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds .

Subsequently, Chauvin was convicted of murder, and calls for nationwide awareness of the issues surrounding racism and police brutality reverberated from city to city. But in the years since, some of those change efforts, like the federal George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, have stalled. In several states, calls for criminal justice reforms to address decades-long racial disparities have stalled or are met with tough-on-crime rhetoric and policies.

For Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, the first calls for change after his brother’s death were touching.

“The fact that it was stolen from us. We still can’t get over it,” he said in an interview. “So many people felt the same pain all over the world.”

But as he spoke about the lack of change and his inability to pressure Congress to pass the federal bill named after his brother, Philonise Floyd broke down in tears.

“It’s different. It’s really like you don’t understand how you can sit there and witness someone murder your brother and four years later there’s still no change.” , he said through tears. “You’re still trying to pass the same law for your brother. And the city and the world were on your side, and we still haven’t gotten any change. does he?

In recent years, many conservative states – and some progressive parts of the country – have adopted tougher crime policies.

In Georgia, lawmakers rolled back Republican-backed 2018 criminal justice reforms and added cash bail requirements for 30 new crimes this year. In Tennessee, lawmakers passed a bill to block some reforms related to how police handle traffic stops, including a Memphis law enacted following the killing of Tire Nichols, a young black man who died after that several police officers violently beat him.

Maryland Democratic Gov. Wes Moore signed into law a controversial juvenile justice bill that allows the state to prosecute children as young as 10 accused of serious offenses. Oregon has passed a bill recriminalizing possession of small amounts of drugs, a measure that rolls back key parts of a previous law that did the exact opposite.

Critics of tough-on-crime approaches point to Florida as the starting point for the new measures. There, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis championed and signed several police-related bills. Those measures include an “anti-riot” law that could restrict protests, which are currently the subject of a legal challenge in the Florida Supreme Court.

“We saw unprecedented unrest and riots throughout the summer of 2020, and we said that would not happen here in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said before signing the bill. of law in 2021.

Meanwhile, two other laws — one that limits the power of civilian police review boards in the state and another that requires anyone observing or filming first responders to stay 25 feet away when asks him – are expected to come into force later this year.

Since his election in 2020, Republican Rep. Tom Fabricio has supported the measures and said he is serving the will of his constituents.

“We want Florida to be a law and order state,” he said. “We do not want excessive public order. But we want more law and order, and I think that’s what we’ve been able to deliver to Florida residents. »

Republican state Rep. Alex Rizo sponsored the “Halo Bill,” regarding bystanders filming first responders, which is expected to take effect next January.

When asked if the bill was part of the backlash to calls for reform after the release of bystander video of Floyd’s death, Rizo said no and that the bill ” allows a safe space for the first responder to move forward and complete their tasks. »

“The overarching theme and all of these laws that we’ve passed over the last four years is safety for all Floridians – that includes whether or not to wear a badge,” Rizo said.

The lawmaker added that statewide civilian oversight boards should be abolished and oversight of policing be carried out by elected officials such as city councilors and mayors.

“You can’t delegate responsibility, and ultimately it’s the elected leaders, the people who are putting their name out there and asking for this position, who should be held accountable ultimately,” Rizo said.

Rodney Jacobs, executive director of the Civilian Investigative Panel in Miami, which oversees independent investigations of police misconduct, strongly disagrees. He said the work of the committee, which deals with some 300 complaints a year, is essential to protecting communities.

“People have been calling for police accountability for misconduct for so long,” he said. “I think the further away we get from implementing this, the further away we get from wanting to do this constructive work. We will never close the gaps between our law enforcement and our community.

Some believe that gap widened in March when Miami police fatally shot Donald Armstrong after his mother called him for help during a mental health crisis. Police said Armstrong was brandishing a sharp object. His lawyer, Larry R. Handfield, said he was holding a small conductor’s baton. Armstrong is now paralyzed and in prison.

Handfield also told NBC News that he plans to file a civil suit against the city of Miami. But, he said, he also wants to resolve the misdemeanor probation violation charge quickly so Armstrong can get help.

Preston Baldwin, who lived a block from Armstrong, filmed the shooting and said he was glad he was able to help contextualize what happened. Baldwin said police should have worked harder to defuse the incident and not shoot Armstrong.

“I felt like if something were to happen, we would need an impartial eye,” he said. “It’s heavy because it’s like, man, that could really be me. Like I could be that guy. It only takes a second to be wrong about someone, a second to misinterpret words.

Baldwin moved from Minnesota to Miami, where he protested after Floyd’s death. Now he wonders what’s next.

“It’s kind of like we’re in a circle,” he said. “Let’s go back to the police shootings which again are the main topic in the news, you know, people arguing or people not liking each other over race or whatever. We’re back to the same thing that started all of this.

Yet for Rachel Gilmer, leader of the social justice group Dream Defenders, the pushback against change efforts keeps her going.

“Young people, like our generation, have the most radical and progressive vision for the future of this country,” she said. “All the backlash we see against this vision also speaks to the power of this vision and its popularity.”

Meanwhile, Philonise Floyd and his wife, Keeta, who started a civil rights organization, now work with many other families affected by police violence. They said they are determined to continue fighting on behalf of George Floyd as his young daughter, Gianna, grows up without a father.

“It seems like now everyone is trying to brush this under the rug as best we can because we don’t talk about it anymore,” Keeta Floyd said. “Like, ‘Oh, they’re not as angry as they used to be.’ » But we are. We lost George.

Her husband echoed these sentiments. “I’m going to continue to turn my pain into purpose,” Philonise Floyd said. “And this bill needs to pass because all of my brother’s blood is on this bill. …At the end of the day, if you want to make changes, show me.

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