July 28, 2021

A year after the death of George Floyd, the slow change in the police force in the United States

Editorial. A year ago, George Floyd died of suffocation under the knee of a white policeman in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The nine endless minutes of agony of this 46-year-old African-American filmed by a young passer-by moved the entire planet and provoked in the United States demonstrations of unprecedented magnitude against police violence and racism. While the police officer, Derek Chauvin, convicted of murder by justice, will be fixed on the length of his prison sentence on June 25, the practices of law enforcement in the United States remain at the heart of the debate.

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The death of George Floyd certainly triggered a legislative process. In the weeks that followed, a bill bearing his name was passed by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. This involves in particular limiting the principle of “qualified immunity”, which allows the police to be exempted from their responsibility in certain “mistakes”, as well as prohibiting strangulation techniques during an arrest. But this reform remains blocked in the Senate by a Republican minority still reluctant to reduce the prerogatives of the police.

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At the same time, a saving awareness has started within public opinion. The fact that part of the white population mobilized en masse is a decisive element for drive reforms and changing behavior in a country where an African American male is twice as likely to be killed by the police as his fellow white man.

Police brutality continues

On the ground, practices are starting to change. The proliferation of police pedestrian cameras makes it possible to break with a culture of secrecy that has long dominated. The impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of “burrs” is no longer as systematic as it used to be. But police reform comes up against the complexity of a structure made up of more than 12,000 local services, overseen by thousands of federal and federal agencies. In fact, police brutality continues, and blacks continue to fall under police bullets.

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Burrs are not always the result of a fierce fight against serious crime. The mode of intervention in drug abuse cases may be disproportionate to the seriousness of the offense. There is also the question of the efficiency of carrying out twenty million road checks each year. A routine in most Western countries, but which, in the United States, can degenerate at any time, especially when it concerns a black person.

A society marked by racial discrimination

Changing police practices does not only depend on a training effort, better supervision or more severe penalties against bad apples. The stake is also societal. The police often find themselves confronted with social distress that is beyond them. Almost a third of the thousand people killed each year by the police have psychological problems. Taking care of these patients upstream would undoubtedly avoid many tragedies.

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Finally, the police operate in a society which itself remains marked by discrimination against blacks. The case of George Floyd, as emblematic as it is, will not be enough to change certain behaviors, anchored in mentalities for generations. No law will either restore the long-broken trust between the police and part of the population. American society must submit to a much broader examination of conscience.

The world