If partisans in Congress need further evidence about why they should forgo partisan divisions and pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, they need look no further than Wilmington, North Carolina.
There, just last week, three Wilmington police officers were fired after a dashcam video inadvertently recorded conversations in which the officers discussed their enthusiasm to kill Black people: “We are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them fu----- ni-----. I can’t wait. God, I can’t wait.”
Racism is not an isolated problem, but it's a deep undercurrent that runs through the veins of our policing culture and, sadly, too many of its sworn officers.
If we wait to change hearts and minds, the body count of Black Americans will continue to rise. To change behavior, we need unequivocal standards and real accountability.
The legislation has the potential to bring about swift change by categorically outlawing at the federal level dangerous police behavior like chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and driving local and state governments to do the same if they want federal funding. These outrageous practices were prime factors in the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, and this legislation is the best chance we have to quickly eradicate them from policing behavior.
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The proposal would require that deadly force be used only as a last resort and only after officers attempt de-escalation techniques. How many cases have we seen where police killed an unarmed Black person or shot a Black person in the back? More cases than we can count.
Deadly force against Black people is so common that virtually every Black parent feels the need to have “the talk” with their child about how, hopefully, to survive an encounter with police: Keep your hands on the steering wheel and visible. Don’t move. Don’t reach for anything.
But too often, grief-stricken parents learn that these protective actions aren’t enough. Could it be that those officers, like the officers we heard on the Wilmington tape, were actively looking for an opportunity to start slaughtering us, knowing they could hide behind a concocted claim that they feared for their lives?
Importantly, the legislation requires the use of bodycams and dashcams. If Floyd’s horrific death had not been caught on video, it would have been another lost moment, not the spark for a lasting movement. Without video evidence, law enforcement officers are taken at their word and given the benefit of the doubt. With video evidence, their real words, like those of the Wilmington officers, make clear their intentions, and we have something better than the benefit of the doubt: We have the benefit of the truth.
The demand of Americans protesting from one end of our nation to the other — and supported by voices around the world — is for an end to racial injustice, for those whose hearts and minds can’t be changed to be held accountable for their behavior. The Floyd legislation recognizes that accountability requires consequences, so it makes it easier to prosecute offending officers and recover civil damages when a citizen’s constitutional rights are violated.
While we hope the Wilmington officers are aberrant outliers and not the poster children of a racist police culture, we have an obligation to root out officers with toxic attitudes and intolerable track records. The proposal would help cleanse the ranks of law enforcement by creating a nationwide police misconduct registry to prevent bad cops from moving undetected from one jurisdiction to another. And it mandates reporting of use-of-force data to document the extent of the problem.
While the legislation quick-starts change by building in real action, transparency and accountability, it also promotes the longer, cultural transformation to reshape hearts and minds by reimagining the role of police in communities.
As proven by the masses who have taken to the streets, we are at a historic tipping point, and Americans are expecting meaningful, lasting change. Our leaders in Congress, regardless of their political stripe, would do well to follow the people at this pivotal moment and embrace the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
Ben Crump is a civil rights attorney and founder of the national law firm Ben Crump Law, based in Tallahassee, Florida. He represents the Floyd family.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Racist comments of N.C. cops support need for swift passage of Floyd Act