The U.S. policing system has been entwined with racism since its inception during the slavery era. The first municipal police department in the country was conceived as a slave patrol to monitor and surveil the Black enslaved population.
We still see the effects of this origin when it comes to policing Black communities — particularly in terms of the disproportionate rates of excessive force by police against people of color, and the legal barriers which make it impossible to hold police accountable when they kill community members.
In a country devastated by the deaths and injuries of hundreds of people, many of them unarmed, at the hands of police officers, drastic changes are needed in our approach to public safety.
We know that simply tweaking a use-of-force policy is not going to eliminate the racism embedded in police practices, but these first steps are critical to saving lives.
Cities in Indiana such as Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and South Bend, are working to make critical changes to use-of-force policies. And in our work with police departments and the communities they serve, we are demanding greater collaboration with and inclusion of community stakeholders.
To save lives immediately, cities must adapt use-of force policies that include certain elements such as:
- requiring exhaustion of all alternatives before shooting,
- enacting a use of force continuum, and
- creating a civilian dominate Use-of-Force Board.
At a National level, the ACLU is also demanding that President Biden set a federal lethal force standard in which officers can only use lethal force when absolutely necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death, and after exhausting all de-escalation techniques. Research has found that when police departments adopt such policies, they not only kill fewer people, but also suffer fewer officer deaths in the line of duty.
The Biden administration must also support and sign legislation to abolish qualified immunity, a legal defense which allows police officers to engage in unconstitutional and illegal acts and escape liability.
But while all of these efforts are in progress in Indiana cities and at the National level, the Indiana legislature has proposed a bill that would not only fail to address concerns about police violence against Black people, but would further move Indiana in the opposite direction. SB 311 outlines weak use-of-force language and expands officer protections when using force.
Lethal use of force should be a last resort, not the first tactic officers rely on. We must end excessive force used by officers and strengthen police accountability here in our state.