By Samaria Bunburry, age 14
Following nationwide protests after the murder of unarmed Black man, George Floyd, the House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March this year. The legislation aims to reduce the number of Black victims of police brutality, change the policing experience of everyone and ensure that what happened to Floyd will not repeat itself.
Convicted murderer and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, ignoring Floyd’s cries for help and several indications that he could not breathe.
According to Statista, within the first five months of 2021, 371 people were shot and killed by police officers in the United States. Despite Black people only making up 13% of the population, on average 51.8% of every 1,000 people killed by police are Black. Black people are shot at a disproportionate rate and are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by police officers.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act attempts to curb unlawful police behavior by making it easier to hold individual officers accountable. Until now, officers have been greatly shielded by qualified immunity—a legal precedent that protects government officials, as well as police officers, from legal punishment or lawsuits. According to Mapping Police Violence, 98.3% of killings by police from 2013 to 2020 did not result in officers being charged with a crime.
The new bill will also require that federal law enforcement officials use body and dashboard cameras. It will also enforce a permanent ban on the use of the chokehold that has ended so many lives, as well as the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases. Police departments will lose access to federal funding if they do not implement these new changes or comply with the bill.
Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said during a March 3 debate in the House of Representatives that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act does not go far enough, as it does not defund the police. Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, agrees. “What if we made big moves?” Simpson said in an interview with Vox. “I’m not saying it’s bad legislation: Everything that’s in there makes sense, for the most part, it’s things that people want. But is it the biggest, boldest move that we can make?”
If there is one thing both sides agree on, it’s that the conviction of Derek Chauvin changed the mindset of the country. As we saw, law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable for killings, especially for those victims who are Black. George Floyd’s death has led the country toward holding police accountable. “We have enough evidence that tells us that action needs to be taken,” says Justin Nix, a criminologist at the University of Nebraska Omaha. “One thousand deaths a year does not have to be normal.”