Police Step Back as US Protesters Call for Reforms

08 June 2020

Weeks of protests over the death of George Floyd have strengthened calls for police reforms and reducing the amount of money police forces receive.

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on May 25 after a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, kneeled on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.

Two weeks after Floyd's death, a majority of Minneapolis City Council members voted to drop the 800-member police department. "It is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe," said City Council President Lisa Bender.

However, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey says he does not support a full end to the department.

Derek Chauvin, the officer who held his knee on Floyd's neck, has been charged with second-degree murder. The three other officers who were there during Floyd's arrest have been charged with aiding and abetting – or helping -- in a murder.

The state of Minnesota has begun a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department.

This is not the first time that an American city has struggled to deal with aggressive policing methods or unequal treatment among its police force.

In 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, a white officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man. The U.S. attorney general at the time, Eric Holder, said federal officials considered breaking up the police department. The city later reached an agreement that required strong reforms.

On Monday, congressional Democrats proposed new federal legislation to ban police chokeholds and limit legal protections for officers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knelt with other lawmakers for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – the length of time Floyd was under the knee of the Minneapolis officer.

Pelosi made note of the nation's history of slavery, saying, "We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change."

A sign painted by protesters stating "Defund the Police" is seen next to a Black Lives Matter sign as people demonstrate against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, near the White House in Washington, U.S., June 7, 2020. (REUTERS/Josua Roberts)

"Defund the police"

Across the United States, protesters are now calling to "defund the police," as more videos of aggressive policing methods have been published and widely shared.

In Buffalo, New York, two police officers were charged with assault last week after being filmed pushing an old man taking part in a protest. The man fell back and hit his head on the ground. In videos of the incident, blood can be seen flowing onto the ground. A government lawyer called the victim "a harmless 75-year-old man" and said the police officers "crossed the line."

In other cities, law enforcement agents have used tear gas and physical force against both looters and peaceful protesters. The Associated Press reports that more than 10,000 people have been arrested around the country since the protests began.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that the city would move money from the police department to programs for young people and social services. He said the changes would still keep the city safe. He did not give any additional information.

In Los Angeles, California, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he wants to cut as much as $150 million from a planned increase in the police department's budget. A police union representative answered, "At this time, with violent crime increasing, a global pandemic and nearly a week's worth of violence, arson, and looting, ‘defunding' the LAPD [Los Angeles police Department] is the most irresponsible thing anyone can propose."

Some supporters of the cause say "defunding the police" is not about removing police departments or taking away all of their money. They say it is time for the country to deal with problems in policing and to spend more on housing and education.

Representative Karen Bass of California is chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. She told CNN, "Now, I don't believe that you should disband police departments. But," she added, "I do think that, in cities, in states, we need to look at how we are spending the resources and invest more in our communities."

More peaceful protests

The protests in recent days have been peaceful. Police appear to have stopped using aggressive methods.

Several cities, including Chicago, Illinois, and New York City, have lifted their curfews. Over the weekend, New York City police officers were not wearing riot gear as they watched over the demonstrators. Some shook hands and took pictures with protesters.

In Washington, D.C., protesters pleaded with a black female Secret Service officer to, in their words, "take the knee. Do it. Do it. Take the knee." Taking a knee is seen as a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The officer stepped forward and knelt for a short time.

Another officer told the protesters, "I'm talking to you as another black man just to say this is something that encourages me. And just like you're out there for me, consider what I'm doing here, for you."

I'm Caty Weaver.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on Associated Press and Reuters news reports. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

chokehold - n. a method of holding someone by putting arm or leg around the person's neck with enough pressure to make breathing difficult

kneel - v. (past tense - knelt) to put one or both knee on the floor

transformative - adj. causing or able to cause change

defund - v. to remove money for something

assault - n. the crime of trying or threatening to hurt someone physically

looter - n. a person who steal things from a place during a war or after a destruction caused by fire, rioting, etc.

pandemic - n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people around the world

arson - n. the illegal burning of a building or other structure

disband - v. to end an organization or a group