Among the more promising and productive moves made by President Joe Biden, his nomination of Merrick Garland as the nation’s attorney general is already paying off. Garland, the chief of the U.S. Justice Department, has launched an investigation into the police murder of Breonna Taylor last year in Louisville. His probe into this botched raid will also include looking into other aspects of inequality and injustice in the department.
Given the spate of police homicides, most recently one in North Carolina and another in Virginia, to say nothing of the shooting death of Daunte Wright, Garland’s plate will soon be crowded with cases, if he’s truly serious about such investigations.
In any event, this is a meaningful departure from the interest and actions of the previous administration, although any departure from that would be noteworthy.
Investigating these violent acts, mainly against unarmed Black men and women, is undoubtedly a positive step and this is just the beginning of a process that requires relentless commitment. It may certainly help Garland that these police atrocities have gained global attention, one agency deeming them “crimes against humanity.”
Human rights experts from 11 countries in a 188 page account entitled “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States,” hold the U.S. accountable for a long history of the violation of international law that in many instances “rise to the level of crimes against humanity.”
This is a devastating report, but nothing new to many Black Americans, particularly the families who have felt firsthand the brutal and far too often lethal attacks. The commissioners and rapporteurs included an array of prominent internationalists and Philonise Floyd, George’s brother, and Nicole Paultre Bell, the widow of the slain Sean Bell, were among an ensemble of witnesses.
The commissioners recommended “that States, municipalities, and local government should further operate to bring all 18,000 law enforcement forces within the purview of constitutional policing and compliance, should develop civilian review boards and oversight, and should develop response teams comprised of qualified, unarmed civilian staff separate from law enforcement departments to respond to emergencies involving mental health, homelessness, and other non-criminal emergencies.”
To this we suggest that the consent decrees once promoted by former Attorney General Eric Holder be evaluated or renewed if they no longer exist. And keep the issue of qualified immunity on the agenda.
But in the long run how and when will such measures coalesce into something substantial and concrete to bring about totally reforming or re-imagining policing and the protocols are unanswered questions.
We hope that Garland reads the report as well as the law enforcement agencies of the nation because there’s a lot of important and instructive advice to continue and expand actions already in motion.