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The tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Sean Monterrosa and many others by law enforcement officers are horrific reminders of the legacy of systemic racism in the United States. Commenting on the current situation, Pope Francis said: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.” As people of faith who see the image of God in the lives of those killed by police, we must work in solidarity with communities of color in demanding significant reforms now.
These killings make plain the immediate need for transformational change in policing in our country. The death of George Floyd once again calls into question the use of force, especially chokeholds, by law enforcement officers. Breonna Taylor was killed as a result of a “no-knock warrant” that allows officers to enter a property without warning inhabitants prior to entry. Violent state and local law enforcement responses to demonstrations in the wake of these deaths offer a stark example of the ongoing militarization of police.
In recent weeks and in partnership with interfaith and secular organizations, the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology and the Ignatian Solidarity Network are calling for federal police reform legislation that addresses the following key areas:
- Recent research comparing use of force policies in America’s 100 largest cities demonstrates that stricter policies result in fewer deaths. Now is the time to set a federal standard restricting the use of force by law enforcement officers to those situations when it is necessary as a last resort after having exhausted reasonable alternatives. Federal funding for state and local law enforcement should be made conditional on adoption of the federal standard.
- Congress should prohibit chokeholds and other maneuvers that restrict the flow of blood or oxygen to the brain, and deem the use of such force a federal civil rights violation. This will give prosecutors an important tool for holding law enforcement officers and departments legally accountable for their actions.
- Since 1991, the Department of Defense has transferred $6 billion of military equipment to state and local agencies. Congress should address the militarization of law enforcement by setting strict standards and limits on such transfers.
- Police increasingly use “no-knock warrants,” a procedure which allows them to enter property without prior notification. In Breonna Taylor’s case, police executed a no-knock warrant and her boyfriend fired on the police thinking they were violent intruders. Congress should limit the use of no-knock warrants, banning them in drug cases and for suspected nonviolent crimes.
These changes alone will not end police violence against communities of color, but they are achievable steps towards meaningful change. We urge you to reach out to your elected officials to let them know that any policing legislation must address, at a minimum, these core issues.
The House of Representatives has passed the Justice in Policing Act, which addresses these and other important issues. As the Senate begins to review potential legislation, please join us in demanding that they take immediate action to address the social sin of police violence.
- Cops do 20,000 no-knock raids a year. Civilians often pay the price when they go wrong.
- 1033 Program & Police Militarization
- Police Use of Force Project
- War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing
- New Era of Public Safety: An Advocacy Toolkit for Fair, Safe, and Effective Community Policing
- Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing