EDITORIAL: Floyd decision just a step on road to reform

York Dispatch editorial board
In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin's trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

The stunning jury decision to convict former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murder in the death of George Floyd is a long-overdue demonstration that justice is, indeed, possible in America in cases where police brutally takes the lives of Black and brown people.

But it is only a first step in what will be a long march toward equal rights and fairer policing practices.

Federal and state leaders, including in Pennsylvania, must now use this historic decision as a launching pad for sustained legislative and financial initiatives aimed at retraining and reform.

More:Ex-cop guilty of murder and manslaughter in George Floyd case

It won’t be easy.

For one thing, the response by Republican lawmakers has been characteristically backwards: targeting civil rights demonstrators rather than rouge cops.

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, signed a new law just this week that imposes sweeping penalties for people arrested at demonstrations. And GOP lawmakers in Minnesota, where protests mushroomed in the wake of Floyd’s murder last year, are weighing a bill that would make anyone convicted of a criminal offense at a rally ineligible for state aid including college loans and grants, rent and mortgage assistance, supplemental nutrition assistance, and unemployment benefits.

For another thing, police departments and their unions still too often close ranks to protect their own. Witness the police trial board that cleared York City Police Officer Clayton Swartz, accused, among other allegations, of reenacting Floyd’s murder at a party. Departments also intentionally obscure information released to the public, as was the case in the statement released by Minneapolis police immediately following Floyd’s death last May.

So, there will be considerable roadblocks to reform. But with the Chauvin verdict — a rare case of a white police officer convicted of murder in the death of a Black person in custody — there is renewed commitment and passion.

They must be immediately directed toward pushing the many police reforms that are not only necessary but long overdue.

Start with transparency. As an eye-opening 2019 report by USA Today documented, “Police unions and their political allies have worked to put special protections in place ensuring some (police misconduct) records are shielded from public view, or even destroyed.”

Enough! At the very least, officers’ disciplinary reports must be made available on publicly accessible databases. And that means Pennsylvania must revisit and amend the recently passed Act 57, which fell short in this regard.

Departments should also undergo regular instruction on civil rights protections. The federal Department of Justice launched a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department within 24 hours of Chauvin’s guilty verdict. Fine, but this model should be employed to ensure proper policing across the board, not just after egregious violations.

And speaking of models, Maryland this month became the first state to rescind its so-called “police bill of rights,” which offers outsized legal protections to cops. Other states should waste no time in following suit.

Finally, the U.S. Senate needs to take up and pass the George Floyd Police Reform Bill already approved by the House. The measure includes common-sense steps like banning choke-holds and diluting the qualified immunity police officers now enjoy.

These reforms would be but a down-payment on the debt the nation and its law enforcement agencies owe Black and brown Americans after generations of police practices that have been neither just nor equitable.

Still, they are necessary first steps. And they must be followed by sustained pressure on public officials to reimagine policing in a way that forestalls the possibility of future George Floyds. … Or Adam Toledos. … Or Duante Wrights. … Or Ma’Khia Bryants. … Or the close to three dozen other Americans of color who were among the more than 60 people who died at the hands of police just during Derik Chauvin’s trial.

That’s roughly three people every 24 hours. We haven’t got a day to lose.