US mayors launch working group for police reform and racial justice

10th June 2020 Sarah Wray

The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) has formed a new initiative to drive reforms “to address police violence and patterns of racial discrimination”.

The Police Reform and Racial Justice Working Group, which is composed of the mayors of Chicago, Tampa and Cincinnati, and the police chiefs of Baltimore, Phoenix and Columbia, will work to release specific recommendations related to US policing practices within weeks.

As a first action, the group, led by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, has sent a letter to congressional leaders urging federal action and seeking collaboration with lawmakers.

The initiative follows the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, which has resulted in large protests, and calls to withdraw funds from city police departments and reform rules on the use of force.

The USCM group is being assisted by experts, including Charles Ramsey, who is an advisor to the USCM and was formerly Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Washington DC Police Chief, and Co-chair of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing; Ron Davis, Executive Director, President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and Director, COPS Office; and Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director, USCM.

“Mayors will lead”

Bryan K. Barnett, USCM President and Mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan, commented: “The nation’s mayors are committed to dismantling the systemic racism that exists in our country. Black Americans have been denied the promise of equality and justice in this country for too long, and that must end now. The recent killings of innocent black people have highlighted once again that there is much work to do with revising and improving the policies and practices of our police departments. We must do better, and we must start this work immediately.”

He added: “That’s why mayors will lead not just in words, but in action. Every level of government has a role to play, but we will not wait for others. Mayors are going to lead this fight. The forms of racism afflicting black Americans are many, but this task force will be focused on the policing and racial justice issues that have proven so urgent. I am proud of the leadership demonstrated by mayors in recent days and I have every confidence that this collective effort will help create real change and forge a path towards a better future.”

Future of US policing

America is seeing widespread debate about the future of policing in the wake of Floyd’s death and the protests. At the weekend, nine Minneapolis City Council members reportedly pledged to “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department”. It is reported that Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey supports deep structural reform over abolition of the police department but the councillors represent a majority on a 12-person council.

“We recognise that we don’t have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like, but our community does,” a statement from the councillors said. “We’re committed to engaging with every willing community member in the City of Minneapolis over the next year to identify what safety looks like for you.”

Ideas put forward include sending mental health professionals or social workers to respond to certain emergencies, for example.

The proposal in Minneapolis is the most radical but a number of other US mayors and local leaders have suggested they could also reduce or redirect police funding.

On Monday, US Democrats in Congress proposed sweeping reforms for the police.

Meanwhile, IBM announced it is withdrawing from the general-purpose facial recognition market, citing concerns the technology could be used for racial profiling. “We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies,”  IBM CEO, Arvind Krishna, said in a statement.

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