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April 7, 2021

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George Floyd case points to thorny issue of police reform

The ongoing murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin who last year killed unarmed black man George Floyd underscores the issue of police reform, which US President Joe Biden has said he wants to address.

The full video of Floyd’s arrest played by prosecutors in opening statements in the trial shows that Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for about 9 minutes and 30 seconds, instead of the widely reported 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd could be heard pleading with Chauvin multiple times, saying that he couldn’t breathe.

Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The incident sparked nationwide protests and led to even some calls to de-fund the police.

“Biden wants the police to work closely with the communities they serve and avoid the aggressive tactics that have been used in certain places,” Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West said in an interview.

“This includes a ban on chokeholds and greater accountability when law enforcement actions lead to death or bodily harm,” West said.

Racial inequality

During Biden’s six terms as a senator, he had strong backing from cops’ organizations. He pledged to address police reform during his campaign, as well as the broader issue of racial inequality in the United States.

But the issue is not an easy one to tackle, as police have a tough job, and are often confronted with situations in which their lives are at stake and they must make split-second decisions, experts say.

Republicans take a pro-law enforcement stance, and fear that any of Biden’s potential reforms could mean inhibiting officers’ ability to control violent crime, or that they could put officers’ lives in danger.

Clay Ramsay, a researcher at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, said in an interview that Biden could take a number of steps toward police reform.

One is to legislate a grant program for municipalities to build up community policing in their police departments.

Another is to pass legislation that would wind down mass incarceration, as the extraordinary size of the aging US prison population is more and more expensive.

The author is a Xinhua writer.


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