COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – After a year of protests against police brutality, some Republican-controlled states have ignored or blocked proposals for police reform, instead going the other way by giving more powers to officers, which makes it more difficult to discipline them and extend their authority to suppress protests.
The sponsors of the GOP measures acted in the wake of the nationwide protests that followed the death of George Floyd, and they cited the unrest and destruction that swept through major US cities last summer, including Portland, New York and Minneapolis, where Floyd died at the hands of officers.
“We need to strengthen our laws on collective violence, to ensure that individuals are unequivocally dissuaded from committing violence when they are in large groups,” said Florida State Representative Juan Fernandez-Barquin. , a Republican, at a hearing for a riot bill that was enacted in April.
Florida is one of the few states this year to both expand police authority and pass reforms: a separate bill awaiting governor action would require additional training on the use of force and ensure that officers intervene if another uses excessive force.
States where lawmakers pushed back the police reform movement included Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming, according to a review of the legislation by the Associated Press.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday signed a bill to expand qualified immunity for police officers and strengthen penalties for protesters, including raising riots to the rank of felony.
“It’s about protecting law enforcement and giving them the tools they need to keep our communities safe and show them that we support them,” said State Representative Jarad Klein, a supporter of the bill.
The bill was passed by the GOP-controlled legislature despite promises made last summer by the Republican governor and GOP legislative leaders to try to end discriminatory police behavior and adopt other criminal justice reforms.
Reynolds introduced measures early in the 2021 legislative session to ban racial profiling by police and establish a racial data tracking system on police stops. Both ideas were recommended by a governor-appointed task force in November 2019.
Instead, Republican lawmakers put those proposals aside and pushed through the new bill.
Reynolds admitted that she didn’t always get what she wanted, even from her own party. She plans to reintroduce the measures next year, a spokesperson said.
Reform supporters found the Iowa Republicans’ quick turnaround disappointing.
“Would it have been too difficult to do the right thing?” Democratic state representative Ras Smith asked during a floor debate on the bill. “You’ve decided to make a choice, to trample on freedom, to show your support for law enforcement in a way they haven’t even asked for.”
After Floyd’s death, Democrats in Oklahoma tried to take over the protest movement to pass bills banning the use of chokes, providing uniform guidelines for body cameras, and creating a database. incidents of police use of force. But none of these proposals were even heard. A GOP lawmaker called them unnecessary after the measures met opposition from rank-and-file officers, prosecutors and county sheriffs.
Instead, the Republican-dominated Statehouse passed a law to grant immunity to drivers whose vehicles strike and injure protesters on public streets and to prevent “doxxing,” or disclosure of information. personal identification, law enforcement officers if the intent is to stalk, harass or threaten the officer.
“I was a little disappointed because these were simply measures of accountability” to “make sure the public understands what is going on when something goes wrong,” the representative said. State Monroe Nichols, a Democrat whose father and uncle were police officers.
In Wyoming, Democratic state representative Karlee Provenza introduced a bill that would have prevented officers fired for misconduct from being hired by another law enforcement agency. His bill was passed in the House but failed in the Senate, both controlled by Republicans.
“If the conversation is, ‘This is an anti-police bill,’ rather than ‘This is an accountability bill,’ there is a steeper slope to climb,” said Provenza.
Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Association, said the measure was not necessary. Law enforcement, he said, is already doing a good job of vetting officers, including following state law hiring standards and voluntarily declaring officers who are decertified in a national database.
As cities across the United States created or expanded civilian police oversight councils, the Republican governors of Tennessee and Arizona signed legislation that could reduce the independence of those councils. GOP laws require board members to complete hours of police training or require the majority of board positions to be filled by sworn officers. Critics say such measures defeat the purpose of civilian oversight.
The review boards were intended to address concerns, particularly in black communities, that police services exercise little oversight outside their own internal review systems, which often exonerate officers of acts. reprehensible in fatal shootings.
“He’s got it all to make it look like the fox is watching the henhouse here,” Arizona Senator Kirsten Engel, a Democrat, said of the state’s measure.
Some states continue to introduce bills to protect police, including recent proposals in Ohio and Kentucky that would make mocking or filming a police officer a crime. But about half of states have adopted at least some reform measures.
Since May 2020, at least 67 police reforms have been enacted in 25 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. These laws dealt with neck shackles and strangling, body cameras, disciplinary and personal records, and independent investigations, among other reforms.
At least 13 states have adopted restrictions on the use of force, and at least eight have implemented laws strengthening officer reviews and investigations, according to NCSL data.
Minnesota has banned strangulations. Colorado became the first state in the country to remove qualified immunity from police. Washington has enacted a dozen police reform laws, including restricting the use of arrest warrants and appointing an independent investigator for fatal police shootings. Even GOP-dominated Texas, where Floyd’s body was laid to rest, has implemented more consistent disciplinary measures for malpractice.
Some Democrats in Republican-controlled states have become discouraged in their quest to change the justice system.
“We just ran into so many roadblocks,” said South Dakota Representative Linda Duba, a Democrat who was part of a coalition pushing for reforms.
In calculating Floyd’s death, there seemed to be momentum to reassess the role of police in minority communities, Duba said, but the problem gradually calcified along political lines.
“It is happening slowly because we live in a state where people are not exposed to it, do not believe it is happening or think it is unpatriotic to criticize law enforcement,” he said. she declared.
the editors of Associated Press Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa; and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.
Farnoush Amiri is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.
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