Transformation beyond street engagement—embracing George Floyd’s change paradigm

Defunding the police is a street campaign mantra much needed to inspire the base; transforming the police is a change process that requires legislation.

Anthony Obi Ogbo, PhD

In organizational system rejuvenation, transformation is not just a basic change, but also a drive from a current state to an upper level of mission accomplishment. The organization’s most significant tool for progress is the change sensation. In politics, it is an extraordinary power for societal transformation; or perhaps, an astonishing feat that might be attributed to the collective presence and action of ultimate, or do-or-die, power of the masses.

All through their history, Blacks in America have lived through changes in various basic matters related to their human and constitutional rights, but it seems that the fight for this mission has just started. For a people not asking for preferential treatment, but simply a fair application of their constitutional rights, the system must have been most brutal and inconsiderate. To date, African-Americans still fight to exercise their constitutional rights to vote, move around, go to school, operate their businesses, and more, without predatory system-orchestrated clauses of subjugation. And to make it worse, while they cry, it appears nobody is listening.

For years, this ethnic group has pleaded against various diplomacies of police brutality. From one incident to the next, Black people have been wrongly killed by White police officers who often face little or no prosecution.

In July, 2013, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement began as a result of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot to death a 17-year-old African-American teen, Trayvon Martin, for no reason. Yet the movement was scorned and ridiculed by the right-wing political community as a radical leftist mob tactically antagonistic to the white and suburban lifestyle.

The killing of George Floyd however, became a bizarre tragedy that finally invoked the changing spirit among all peace-loving communities around the world. The notion metamorphosed from Blacks in America to global LGBTQ activism, feminism, immigration reform, and economic justice. Thus, it is now a piece of history, on how George Floyd, a forty-six-year-old African-American, died in a way that shocked the entire world.

Floyd, it may be recalled, was arrested for trying to pass a potentially counterfeit bill, and indeed, surveillance video shows him being led away in handcuffs. Consequently, a cellphone video shows a White police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for seven minutes, ignoring protests and multiple pleas from onlookers that his life was in danger. As if the police killing of Eric Garner in 2014 was being reverberated, Floyd repeatedly says, “I can’t breathe,” and then, “I’m about to die.”

This was exactly how Floyd died on the scene—painfully, in the most brutal, insensitive, and barbaric lynching tactic. In fact, when the officer eventually pulled off his knee, Floyd was unresponsive. Nearby voices could be heard through the recorded video, “They just killed him.” To complete the process, Floyd was taken to a hospital, where he was officially pronounced dead.

Another shocking moment of Floyd’s saga is the fabrication of the incident report regarding his death. The first statement from the Minneapolis Police Department excluded any use of force from the officers involved, including former officer Derek Chauvin who actually killed him. Rather, the report stated that Floyd “physically resisted officers” and “appeared to be suffering medical distress” after he was handcuffed. Further, the report claimed that Floyd died “after a medical incident during police interaction.” To sum up the story, On Tuesday, April 20, Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts of causing George Floyd’s death. He was convicted of second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter, and faces up to 75 years in prison when he returns for sentencing in eight weeks.

But this narrative is now a significant era in American history—adding up to scores of other similar incidents involving police brutality against people of color. Across all political aisles, there seems to be a general consensus on the disenfranchisement of people of color, especially African-Americans in the justice system, yet a judicious overhaul of this structure remains elusive.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, America has the highest incarceration rate globally. For instance, for more than five decades, this country has painstakingly engaged in the criminalization, over-policing, and aggressive prosecution of Black communities and communities of color. It has insensitively criminalized victims of drug addiction and individuals with mental illnesses.

Also, a study by the Pew Research Center reveals that majorities of both Black and White Americans believe that Black people are treated less fairly than Whites in dealing with the police and by the criminal justice system as a whole. In a 2019 Center survey of matters related to police and policing, for instance, 84% of Black adults believed that Blacks are generally treated less fairly than Whites; 63% of Whites said the same. Likewise, 87% of Blacks and 61% of Whites said the U.S. criminal justice system treats Black people less fairly.

In the current situation, how does America move from this dishonorable Floyd era to a system of ethical and professional policing? How does the justice system reclaim trust among all ethnic groups, especially the very victims of their tyranny? A school of activists has advocated defunding the police system, suggesting reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police departments to other government agencies that are funded by the local municipality.  But the major issues with the current wave of police brutality is related to training and behavioral standards. So, how does reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police departments change their level of training and behaviors?

That is why the stakeholders of comprehensive police reform must approach the drawing board with more intelligible transformation options. At this moment, the process of the changing paradigm must entail a strategic translation of the crusade and street slogans into legislative policies. In political leadership, organizational transformation is inspired by social activism, but is adopted by legislative supremacies. Defunding the police is a street campaign mantra much needed to inspire the base; transforming the police is a change process that requires legislation.

Whereas the massive push through the streets and social media remains constructive in ushering a new mindset among the law enforcement community, it might be necessary to emphasize the need for a bipartisan legislative action that would put the final nail on the coffin. Call it the standards of George Floyd’s change paradigm, but all stakeholders of police reformation must be united in words and actions to promulgate fairness in the justice system.

Currently, there is a “Justice in Policing Act of 2020” that addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability. One of the most significant aspects of this bill is that it expedites federal enforcement of constitutional violations by state and local law enforcement.

Among other clauses, this bill limits qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer; and authorizes the Department of Justice to investigate police departments for a pattern or practice of discrimination. Furthermore, the bill proposes the creation of a national registry to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct.

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