The Policing Force in America Should Be Reimagined

Rebecca Heimbrock, Staff Writer

For nine minutes and twenty-six seconds, Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck as the restrained man pleaded for his life, repeatedly saying ‘I can’t breathe’. While videos taken by witnesses circulated on social media, a crucial opportunity to reimagine the criminal justice system was born. 

Former police officer Derek Chauvin the day of George Floyd’s death. Photo courtesy of nytimes.com.

Now, almost one year since Floyd’s death, the former Minneapolis Officer has been convicted of all three charges brought by the state — second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin is currently being held without bond as he awaits sentencing, potentially facing between 10 and 15 years in prison for the top charge of second-degree unintentional murder. 

In light of the ruling, many activists have sparked dialogue on social media — questioning whether bringing down the full weight of the carceral state on convicted cops is a permanent solution. 

Simply put, if we as a society recognize that the systems which led to the death of George Floyd are rooted in racism, and have been since their establishment, why would we then act only to reform such systems? Wouldn’t it be better to imagine, and build, a better future?

Author Angela Davis. Photo courtesy of jacobinmag.com.

Angela Davis, an activist who has developed widely-respected critical race theory, makes a compelling argument for abolition. One that exposes how punishment and policing are historically racist. 

She writes in a widely circulated essay on Medium that, “both policing and punishment are firmly rooted in racism — attempts to control indigenous, Black, and Latino populations.” Davis points out the links from slavery, to the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II. 

What connects these issues to the Chauvin trial is that all attempted reformist solutions, such as jailing cops, “have instead provided the glue that has guaranteed their continued presence and acceptance.” 

Junior Maureen Gelona says that giving “a house with a terrible foundation… new windows and another coat of paint wouldn’t do anything for the intrinsic problems. If we just reform certain parts [of the system]… we will be ‘reforming’ forever.” Photo Courtesy of Realtor.com
Davis views abolition as an approach which challenges people to reimagine society, a challenge that not all have accepted. 

In fact, few Americans agree with an abolitionist solution to police brutality. A Gallup Poll released in July of 2020, during the height of the George Floyd protests, found that just fifteen percent of Americans support police abolition. A much higher number of Americans are in favor of reform. 

And, for now, it seems to be working. State and federal prosecutors have been acting quickly against new cases of police violence. 

However, this retroactive action comes at the expense of black lives. 

Most recently, Minneapolis Police Officer Kim Potter was arrested only one day after fatally shooting an unarmed black man during a traffic stop. Potter, just like Chauvin, was only arrested after a young man lost his life. 

One can only imagine that if they had been taken off the force prior to those fateful days, or if there had been a complete reimagining of the force to begin with, those young men would still be alive today.