What's Changed In Police Reform Since George Floyd's Death : Consider This from NPR After his death on May 25, 2020, George Floyd became the face of a movement against police violence. But attorney Andrea Ritchie says, in some ways, the prosecution and conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin created a false sense of progress in that movement. Ritchie focuses on police misconduct and is the author of the book, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women And Women Of Color.

Bowling Green State University criminologist Phillip Stinson explains why so few police officers are prosecuted and convicted for murder. Stinson maintains the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database.

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What's Changed — And What Hasn't — In The Year Since George Floyd Was Killed

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TERRENCE FLOYD: One year later, man - this year's been a roller coaster ride for us.


On Sunday, at a gathering in Brooklyn, N.Y., Terrence Floyd said, quote, "the world woke up" when his brother George was murdered.


T FLOYD: Finally, their eyes are open to what we already knew.

CORNISH: Tuesday marks one year since George Floyd died after a former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, held his knee on Floyd's neck as Floyd pleaded for air. The ensuing protest movement that spread around the world has a goal, said Terrence Floyd - to keep his brother's name ringing in the ears of everyone.


T FLOYD: Because you keep my brother's name ringing, you're going to keep everybody else's name ringing - Breonna Taylor, Sean Bell - oh, man - Ahmaud Arbery. You could go through the whole list.

CORNISH: Each of those three names represents a story that has not ended the way George Floyd's did. The Department of Justice recently opened an investigation into the Louisville Police Department, where no officers were charged in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery was shot while jogging through a white neighborhood last February. No charges were brought until months later when video emerged. The trial of the three men accused of his murder, including one retired policeman, won't begin until October. The third name you heard Terrence Floyd say was Sean Bell. He was killed when undercover detectives fired 50 bullets into his car outside a New York City nightclub. It happened 15 years ago, and the officers involved were acquitted of all charges.


ROBERT R A TURNER: It was a very refreshing time to see the Derek Chauvin verdict. But even with that verdict, we know that there are countless cases across America of police officers who have not been charged.

CORNISH: Reverend Robert R.A. Turner, pastor at the Historic Vernon AME Church in Tulsa, Okla., spoke to NPR this week.


TURNER: The very fact that we were on pins and needles anticipating the result shows you just how rare the outcome was in Derek Chauvin's case.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - on May 25, 2020, George Floyd became the face of a movement. The police officer who killed him has been convicted of murder, but that almost never happens. And some are asking if a focus on that conviction created a false sense of progress. From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Tuesday, May 25.



BRIDGETT FLOYD: It's been a troubling year, a long year, but we made it.

CORNISH: Tuesday in Minneapolis, George Floyd's sister Bridgett spoke at a memorial for her brother while other members of the Floyd family traveled to Washington, D.C., for a private meeting with the president and vice president.


RODNEY FLOYD: How are you guys doing? Today is about the remembrance of our brother, George Floyd - father...

CORNISH: Here's George Floyd's brother Rodney.


R FLOYD: ...Uncle, friend, cousin. And Mr. President and vice president gave us their condolence and just keeping up, touching back on what happened last year, reiterating everything. And we're thankful that they showed great concern.

CORNISH: The Floyd family's journey to that meeting at the White House started with a cellphone recording made one year ago. And while the ubiquity of smartphones has made the public increasingly aware of police killings, successful prosecutions of police officers are still rare.

PHILIP STINSON: Well, I think the case is an outlier in many respects.

CORNISH: For more than 15 years, Bowling State University (ph) criminologist Philip Stinson has been painstakingly maintaining one of the country's most thorough databases of information on police officers charged with on-duty killings.

STINSON: We've collected about - over 18,000 cases since 2005 of officers across the country who've been arrested. We add about 1,100 new cases each and every year.

CORNISH: It's called the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database. And there's a link in our episode notes if you want to take a look. In that exhaustive database of nearly 20,000 officers arrested, Stinson says fewer than 150 have been charged with murder or manslaughter. And of those...

STINSON: I think we've only seen seven or eight of those officers to date have actually been convicted of murder.

CORNISH: Now, there are a few reasons for that. First, many officers arrested for on-duty killings ultimately face charges less serious than murder or manslaughter because prosecutors and investigators usually find their use of deadly force is justified. In cases where murder charges are brought, juries often do not convict officers on the most serious charges.

STINSON: Jurors and courts are very reluctant to second-guess the split-second decisions of on-duty police officers in potentially violent street encounters.

CORNISH: Stinson did tell NPR that in the past few years, he's noticed something new - some prosecutors seem more willing than before to pursue murder charges against police.

STINSON: In the last two or three years, I've started to receive phone calls from prosecutors - both at the state level and at the county level across the country - who have shared with me their difficulties in getting a grand jury to return an indictment. So I think as a society, many people - collectively and individually - really don't want to second-guess police officers,

CORNISH: Of course, whether to prosecute an officer for murder or not is a decision made at the state or county level. At the federal level, President Joe Biden has urged Congress to pass a police reform bill in the name of George Floyd by the anniversary of his death.


JEN PSAKI: Well, let me first say that the president is still very much hopeful that he will be able to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law.

CORNISH: White House press secretary Jen Psaki this week said the president is still leaning on Congress, even though the symbolic deadline has come and gone.


PSAKI: We are, of course, very closely engaged with a range - with the negotiators, while also leaving them room to work. And just on Friday...

CORNISH: If passed, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would invest more money in police training. It would limit their use of military-grade equipment, create a national police misconduct database and condition federal funding on police departments, banning certain uses of deadly force - for instance, chokeholds. At the moment, the bill is stalled in the Senate, where it does not have the 10 Republican votes needed to pass.


CORNISH: Now, the fact that there is still a bill moving through the halls of Congress named for George Floyd speaks to the powerful symbolism of his story. But it is just one of many stories.


ANDREA RITCHIE: I think one of the consequences is that when a prosecution and conviction happens, people think the system is working as it should, when, in fact, thousands of officers get away with killing people without consequences every year in this country.

CORNISH: Andrea Ritchie is an attorney whose focus is police misconduct. We spoke about what it means for our national attention to be, in some ways, singularly focused on Floyd and where his story fits into the national conversation about police violence.


RITCHIE: So I think it also reduces the issue to one individual police officer and one individual person who was harmed when, in fact, George Floyd was killed by the entire Minneapolis police department in many respects, and that department - or not even the officers who stood by and watched - are not implicated in a criminal prosecution.

CORNISH: We've also been hearing that there are prosecutors who might be more willing than before to go after police to pursue murder charges but that they can't really find grand juries who will embrace that as well. And does that signal something to you about sort of where society is on this?

RITCHIE: I think as a society, we are very much invested in policing and punishment, and as a result, are in a position where we have internalized the notion that policing equals safety. And I think that is true throughout society, including folks who might be called to a grand jury, particularly given the racial makeup often of who can sort of manage to make it to grand jury proceedings and serve as a grand juror for weeks at a time and also in terms of the kinds of cases that prosecutors bring to grand juries.

So I think that the larger question is how much, as a society, have we internalized the notion that policing must be defended at all costs? And how does that play out in both individual prosecutions and in our responses to demands for systemic reform?

CORNISH: So then let's talk symbolism. Given what you've just said, what does it mean to have George Floyd's case be the case that has defined the movement for Black lives over this past year?

RITCHIE: Well, I mean, I think - I really want to be clear that the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd on camera by the Minneapolis Police Department deserves all of the attention it received and exponentially more. And it really encapsulates the impunity of police, their imperviousness to reform. And I think we also cannot treat George Floyd's murder as a singular, catastrophic event, as sort of a failure of policing that's otherwise working well. In fact...

CORNISH: Well, that's why I'm asking because...


CORNISH: You know, if you open up a magazine cover and you see George Floyd - or the case of Breonna Taylor - these faces become an incredible focus. And I guess what I'm trying to figure out is, has that focus yielded a reckoning, yielded any shifts?

RITCHIE: It has, and I think it's because people are recognizing, as I've said, sort of over the course of time - and particularly at this flashpoint this summer - that George Floyd's murder is policing. It's not...

CORNISH: But do we miss out on hearing other cases, right? As the media lends its focus with such intensity to certain cases, who are we not learning about? What is happening in the meantime?

RITCHIE: I agree. I think - again, you know, George Floyd's murder deserves all of the attention it received and more, and we need to place it within the broader frame of the ongoing pandemic of police violence against Black people and that it does take the form of these spectacular killings but also this everyday, routinized violence that can be, you know, physical violence, sexual assault, strip searches, cavity searches, stop and frisk, routine criminalization and harassment. And once we expand our frame to see George Floyd's murder in that larger context, then more stories of Black women, of Black trans people, of Black gender-nonconforming people come into view.

So for instance, then we would think of a young woman named Zoya Code whose neck Derek Chauvin knelt on in 2017 during a response to a domestic violence call, no less. And fortunately, she lived to tell the tale, but if we had listened to that tale more closely, maybe George Floyd would still be here. So I think the key that we're focusing on these sort of spectacular killings and not the constellation, the context, the broader pandemic that they're part of means that we're not attending to the systemic nature of the problem.

CORNISH: Once there becomes a person who becomes a symbol of something, it's sort of tempting to see that story as being complete, meaning it has a beginning, a middle and end, and people sort of move on from it. Is there the danger of that here?

RITCHIE: I don't think so. And I think in part because a whole generation of people have been marked by witnessing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of a Black man begging for his life and his mother. That marks a generation in the same way that the casket of Emmett Till marks a generation, in the same way that, for me, watching the video of beating of Rodney King marked a generation. And we see this in the commemorations that are happening across the country today that we are in a moment where folks are not going backwards. People are refusing to go backwards to a place where we say case closed, literally, right? - prosecution done, sentencing imposed, case closed. The case is far from closed on the violence of policing in the U.S. right now.


CORNISH: Andrea Ritchie is a police misconduct attorney and author of the book "Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women And Women Of Color."

There's something else we can point to that has changed in the year since George Floyd was killed. Some Democrat-controlled states have implemented major police reforms - New York, Maryland, Virginia, Washington. They've passed new use-of-force policies and increased independent oversight of police agencies. Colorado notably stripped officers of a legal protection known as qualified immunity, which protects officers from most civil lawsuits. But in Republican-controlled states, things are headed in a different direction. Iowa, Oklahoma and Florida - they've all passed so-called anti-rioting bills, increasing criminal penalties for people who attend protests that get out of line and even granting some immunity to motorists if they injure a protester who is blocking a roadway.


RON DESANTIS: It is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country.

CORNISH: During a signing ceremony for Florida's new law, Governor Ron DeSantis made it clear who it aims to protect.


DESANTIS: Anybody who wears the uniform in service of protecting the public - this bill will make very clear the state of Florida stands with you.



[POST-PUBLICATION CLARIFICATION: May 28, 2021In a previous version of this report, attorney Andrea Ritchie asserted that "thousands of officers get away with killing people without consequences every year in this country." While there's no reliable data to determine how many officers participate in killing members of the U.S. public annually, data suggests that police kill about 1,000 people a year. Ritchie's assertion that the officers get away "without consequences" is also challenging to prove. When we heard concerns after the interview, we contacted Ritchie to ask her to explain her assertion, and she said she meant without arrest or prosecution. According to the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database, since 2005, 142 officers have been arrested on charges of murder or manslaughter in the shooting and killing of someone while on duty. Philip Stinson, who leads this research, says 44 out of those 142 officers have been convicted of a crime: Seven officers were ultimately convicted of murder, 23 of varying degrees of manslaughter and five of varying levels of homicide, and the others were charged with lesser offenses. Officers also face other consequences, including being fired, demoted or placed on leave, which are not tracked nationally and are difficult to quantify.]

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