My older daughter was 4 three years ago today, when George Floyd was brutally murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis outside of Cup Foods. The officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes as other officers stood by and failed to intervene. I remember explaining to my daughter in basic terms what happened. She was sad, and asked why the other police officers didn’t stop the bad one. It broke my heart. We lit a candle for George Floyd outside of our home; it burned for nine minutes.
Last year, my daughter was 6 when Patrick Lyoya was shot in the head by a police officer in Grand Rapids. He was a 26-year-old refugee from eastern Congo with two children. I never found the right words to explain to my daughter what happened to Patrick. How do you explain to a child that in a city only a few hours from home, an unarmed Black man was pulled over by the police and then shot in the back of his head?
This January, my daughter was 7 when Tyre Nichols was beaten by police in Memphis. He was 29. He was a skateboarder and photographer. Tyre was pulled over for a traffic stop. He was only a few blocks away from home, and called out for his mama as he was being beaten and kicked. The autopsy determined that blunt force trauma to the head was the cause of his death.
We cannot wait until my daughter is 10, or 12, or becomes a young woman, for changes to our system of law enforcement. We cannot wait any more for a future in which Black lives are valued and in which we know people will be treated with dignity by every officer who swears an oath to serve and protect.
In the Michigan Legislature, we are working on bipartisan bills to improve police practices, accountability and transparency. These bills build off the bipartisan Senate police improvement bills introduced during the Legislature’s last term. These are policies that we know can lead to fewer police killings per capita and can improve safety for both officers and the community.
We can save lives by requiring agencies to have policies regarding an officer’s duty to intervene to stop another officer’s excessive use of force, using a verbal warning before using physical force, exhausting other alternatives before using deadly force, banning chokeholds, and setting guidelines for responsible foot pursuits. We can prevent suffering by limiting the use of no-knock warrants which have caused harm to Michiganders, and led to the death of Louisville resident Breonna Taylor.
By requiring training of law enforcement officers in behavioral health, de-escalation and implicit bias, we can help change the way we respond to crises. By ensuring independent investigations of officers’ use of excessive force, we can improve accountability. By updating our police officer license revocation laws, we can give law enforcement leaders greater tools to get rid of the rare bad cops that have caused the death or serious bodily injury of community members. And by providing some funding to law enforcement agencies to participate in the Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Program or purchase body cameras, we will enhance safety for officers and the public.
These should not be controversial issues. According to YouGov polling from April 2022, 78% of Michigan voters believe officers should be required to give a verbal warning before using force. Seventy-one percent of Michigan voters support a policy requiring police officers to use de-escalation strategies, and 67% support banning chokeholds. The list goes on.
George Floyd was murdered three years ago today, and his death sparked a reckoning in our country around racial justice. Yet law enforcement officers have killed roughly 1,100 people each year over the past decade, and that pace has not changed since 2020.
This year, we have an opportunity to make good on the kinds of systemic change that many of our community members called for. My kids and their generation deserve a better future that has a more fair, just and equitable justice system, and we must do everything we can to build that future for them.
Stephanie Chang represents Michigan’s 3rd District in the state Senate.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Opinion: 3 years after George Floyd, Michigan can pass police reform