George Floyd was laid to rest this week next to his mother — whose name he called out during his last moments of life — after arriving by horse-drawn carriage to his final resting place in Houston. His burial followed a public viewing and an emotional funeral service at Fountain of Praise Church, which Co-Pastor Mia Wright called a “homecoming celebration” in the tradition of the African-American church.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez/Pool/Getty Images)
Family and friends recalled Floyd as a “gentle giant,” and Floyd's niece Brooke Williams, above, elicited tears when, surrounded by family, she forcefully urged: "No more hate crimes please." (This was among the most raw and powerful eulogies I’ve ever heard.) And the Rev. Al Sharpton recalled Floyd as "an ordinary brother" whom God made a “cornerstone of a movement that's going to change the whole wide world.” The same day, Texas Southern University promised Floyd’s daughter, Gianna, a full scholarship to the university. And a day later, Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, called on Congress to “stop the pain” during testimony on a federal policing bill. “This is 2020. Enough is enough. The people marching in the streets are telling you enough is enough.”
There Is 'Something Broken
As Walter Katz, AV’s Vice President of Criminal Justice, watched the excruciating eight minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd's death unfold, he had one question: Again? “It’s been six years since Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in a street in Ferguson, Missouri, and almost six years since Eric Garner was killed with a chokehold in New York City,” says Katz. “And here we are. After all this effort to talk about reforming the police, of involving the community, of improving trust and legitimacy. I think a lot of people looked at what happened in Minneapolis and said, ‘What has really changed?’ ”
What he’s calling for: Katz, who has served as a public defender, police auditor, and law enforcement consultant, recommends four specific reforms to address the deficiencies in police departments across the country and restore trust between communities and officers:
Remove Qualified Immunity for Officers: “There are shields in court which make it very difficult for people who have been victimized by police to hold the police accountable. This stands as a barrier to civil rights litigation relief.”
Limited Role of Police Unions in Review & Sanction Process: “There is nothing wrong with having pay, benefits, and even scheduling be part of a contract. But if you read many of these police contracts, they regulate and control, to an extreme extent, what the role of accountability and discipline is within that department.”
Enhance Transparency: “Ten to 20 years ago, many states were passing these really broad and expansive ‘Peace Officer Bill of Rights’. And what they were doing to a great extent was making the actions of police officers the opposite of transparent — in fact shielding records, shielding misconduct from public accountability.”
Uniformed Certification & Qualification Requirements: “We need certification and qualification requirements that are at least statewide, if not nationwide, so that all officers are on a register. So that, if they are disciplined for misconduct, if they are under investigation for serious misconduct, they’re flagged on that register as part of a do-not-hire list. We need to look at the number of officers who can resign from departments under clouds of suspicion while under investigation for serious misconduct or deadly use-of-force and then walk out that door and walk into the door of a different police department right down the street. That shouldn’t be.”
We all watched in April as, amid a global pandemic, Wisconsin voters lined up at the polls in face masks — or skipped the election entirely out of fear for their health. “I can’t believe I have to choose between voting and the safety of our child,” Wisconsin resident Angela Warner, who was eight months pregnant at the time, told The Daily Beast. “It almost feels like choosing life or death, to be honest.” An option to vote by mail could have prevented Warner from being forced to choose between her health and her right to vote. It’s among a handful of reforms that Arnold Ventures is supporting —changes to our democratic process that could increase electoral fairness and hold elected officials more accountable to the public. Here’s the work is being done:
Voting at home: Even before COVID-19, more than half of America’s eligible voters didn’t make it to the polls due to various barriers that could be relieved by widespread mail-in voting. “If we have a system that doesn't work in a pandemic, we likely have a system that doesn't work generally,” argues Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute.
Anti-gerrymandering reforms: Redistricting reform means better representation for voters. “We are active in states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Virginia, where citizens have been petitioning for independent redistricting commissions that would allow voters to determine who their politicians are going to be, rather than politicians picking their voters,” says AV Vice President Sam Mar.
Ranked-Choice Voting: “It's a terrible system when voting for the candidate you like the most could help elect the person you like the least,” said Rob Richie, President of FairVote. Ranked-choice voting can expand voter choices and results in more civil, less negative campaigning, and it’s gaining traction among states. Maine will be the first to use it in a presidential election this fall. (Although Republicans there are trying to stop it.)
Open primaries: Closed and partisan primaries disproportionately exclude voters of color and young people, who are more likely to identify as independents, says John Opdycke, President of Open Primaries. “You have a system that's out of whack with how the voters are evolving.” A closed primary also disincentivizes candidates from working with the other party on legislation. Nebraska and California have made the shift to open primaries and are seeing major changes in how parties work together.
Related: Georgia’s secretary of state has launched an investigation into the state’s election “catastrophe” this week in largely minority areas.
What We're Reading
The Marshall Project weighing in on the current debate over defunding the police: “What do people mean by defunding the police? It doesn’t just mean slashing budgets. One of the main ideas is that police departments are often the only agency to respond to problems — even if the problems are not criminal in nature. Police handle mental health crises. They enforce traffic laws. They patrol public school hallways and contract with colleges and universities. In many small towns, police answer 911 calls about barking dogs and loud parties. Advocates of defunding the police argue that many of these functions would be better left to other professionals, such as social workers.”
A Michelle Alexander op-ed on the steps America needs to take to “learn from our history and not merely repeat it,” including confronting our racial past and present, reimagining justice, and fighting for economic justice.
The New York Times reporting on hospitals that got bailout funds furloughing, laying off, or cutting pay of tens of thousands of employees — while rewarding CEOs with millions.
Inside Higher Ed exploring how online learning went for instructors and students in the wake of COVID-19 (not well) and what can be done to ensure better student outcomes.
The Washington Post applauding Virginia for joining a growing reform movement to end unjust driver’s license suspensions.
Financial Times coverage of a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College warning that U.S. public pensions are at risk of running out of money by 2028.
What We're Listening To
An interview with Scott Thomson, the former Chief of Police in Camden, N.J., which in 2013 took the bold step of dissolving and rebuilding its police force. “It really started with being able to build culture as opposed to change a culture,” says Thomson. Officers had to reapply for their jobs, emphasis was placed on community relationships and securing the “consent of the people,” and performance metrics shifted from arrests to outcomes. "When I drove down city streets, I wanted to see little kids riding a bicycle in front of their homes, and I wanted to see people sitting on their front steps," Thomson tells Mary Louise Kelly on NPR's All Things Considered. Since then, homicides and excessive-force complaints have declined. In response to current calls for defunding the police, Thompson says funding needs to shift from enforcement to programs with specialists who can better handle situations that involve mental illness. “Police are not equipped. They're not trained. They're not specialized in that. But yet it continues to get delegated to them.”
Related: More on Camden’s reset from CityLab and CNN.
“LA 92,” a documentary on police brutality and racism that has been available via National Geographic since 2017 but is now streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and for free on YouTube. In the first few minutes, a newsman covering the 1965 Watts Riots interviews a Black citizen, who presciently says, “I don’t think it'll ever stop, really. I mean, it may not be like this, but it’ll never stop.” The documentary fast-forwards to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 (“the most destructive civil disturbance in American history”), which were the result of a verdict that acquitted four white officers in the brutal, videotaped beating of Rodney King. (William Barr was also Attorney General at the time and handled the federal civil-rights probe of King’s beating). This is an intense and frustrating documentary. No one comes out winning. There is no justice. There is no peace. And the similarities to today are undeniable. The New York Times wrote in its 2017 review that the riots depicted “feel like today’s news” — but it didn’t name why. The Hollywood Reporter in its 2017 review ends with this: “Rodney King looks heartbroken when he begs, ‘Can we all get along?’ and argues that the riots using him as an excuse are ‘not gonna change anything.’ Twenty-five years later, his statement isn't corny or trite. It, like this movie, demands our attention.” (For the record, here are some of the 2017 incidents thinly referenced in these reviews. This was also a year that impending police reform was undermined.) The end of the documentary superimposes the ’65 riots over those of 1992, and we could easily lay on top of that the present day. What has changed?
“Justice for All,” a one-hour CBS News special hosted by Gayle King that examines the conversations and protests about systemic racism and police brutality sparked by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. (Note: It contains graphic footage of Floyd’s attack.) It also revisits the death 10 years ago of 20-year-old college junior DJ Henry, whose mother says: “It's heartbreaking to see that nothing has changed." (h/t to AV’s Criminal Justice Manager Nikki Smith-Kea)
A couple who took their marriage vows amid a Black Lives Matter protest in Philadelphia. (If you are like me and cry at weddings, you’ll be bawling by the end of this one.)
A group of college students who have figured out a way to connect farmers’ surplus crops — a glut induced by contracts lost to the coronavirus — with food-insecure communities who need it. (I have been waiting for someone to do this.)
Stephanie Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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