Thursday, July 2, 2020

"The police in the United States are comfortable with the use of force"

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Jesse Jannetta is a researcher, justice and police specialist for the Urban Institute think tank in Washington, DC. He participated in the evaluation of the national initiative launched in 2015 in six American cities to improve relations between the police and the population. Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the death of George Floyd following a violent arrest has been the subject of protests across the country for several days, was one of them.

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The arrest and then the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer, who pressed his neck with his knee for long minutes under the gaze of his colleagues, revived the debate on the police violence in the United States. How do you explain this type of behavior on the part of the police?

The reasons are complex, but we must first note the latitude of the police to use force, from a legal point of view, with in particular the notion of"Qualified immunity" (which prevents police officers from being prosecuted for discretionary actions in the exercise of their duties). We have seen in many cases the difficulty of the justice system in prosecuting police officers who had killed citizens, even when the evidence of their inappropriate behavior was evident. Collective agreements are also most of the time protective and do not facilitate procedures for holding the police accountable for their actions. Under the terms of these contracts, it can happen that suspended or dismissed civil servants are reinstated.

In addition, the organization of the police is completely decentralized in the United States and there are thousands of agencies with different rules. Standards can therefore vary from city to city as the police are largely organized and managed by elected local authorities. In addition, in the absence of a national file, a police officer dismissed from the police force for misconduct may be rehired in another department.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Death of George Floyd: the city of Minneapolis in the face of a multiracial rebellion that it has difficulty apprehending

Is the training of police officers involved in the use of force disproportionately?

This is one aspect of the problem, but it is not the only one. In the case of Minneapolis, for example, the subject is not the training of this police officer: what he did (put the knee on the neck of a man who is not in immediate danger) does not follow any rule and nothing allowed him to make this gesture. It's more of a cultural issue: that the police understand what their job should be, that they are aware that they must answer for their actions and that the consequences can be serious. (the police officer in question was charged with murder).

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