City Councils Across the Country Respond to George Floyd Protests

Protesters outside Los Angeles City Hall.

Protesters outside Los Angeles City Hall. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

 

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Councils have passed resolutions standing in solidarity with Floyd’s family and calling for police reform. So far, however, most haven’t taken substantive steps to change how police operate in their cities.

“The Community spoke and Council listened,” said Betsy Wilkerson, a city council member in Spokane, Washington, as she announced over Facebook the passage of a resolution calling for de-escalation and implicit bias training for police in the city. 

The resolution passed the seven-member council unanimously, one of many seen around the country this week as city councils responded to widespread protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police. Some of the resolutions—most of which express sentiments but don’t implement actual changes—show support for the prosecution of the police officers involved in Floyd’s death and declare racism to be a public health crisis.

Some councils are also approving resolutions that include calls for changes in local police departments. In Spokane, the measure approved by the council presses for an independent civilian review board to investigate all instances of police misconduct and shootings, as well as for the expansion of implicit bias and de-escalation training. The resolution makes special note that for police officers who formerly served in the military, there should be an “added emphasis on re-acclimating them to civilian style interactions.”

“We cannot deceive ourselves into believing that abuses like those that have happened to so many people around the country don’t or can’t happen in Spokane,” the resolution reads. “Spokane police officers, just like elected officials and all other City employees, serve the public, not the other way around.”

The Spokane Police Department did not return a request for comment. 

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, a majority of the city council is co-sponsoring a proposed resolution calling for reform in the city’s police department—a measure the mayor has “wholeheartedly endorse[d].” The resolution supports equipping all police with body cameras that must be turned on when they interact with civilians, de-escalation training, a ban on police using chokeholds or their knees to restrain people, and a new policy to pay out any legal settlements for excessive force or civil rights violation from the police department’s overtime budget. 

“We stand united and in solidarity with the family of George Floyd and families of color who have endured the tragic loss of loved ones at the hands of police officers both unjustly and with little to no accountability,” said Council President Aidee Nieves in announcing the proposal. “Some residents of Bridgeport have experienced similar incidents with our own police department and have called for reform and accountability.”

In New York City, the resolutions being considered call on the state legislature to act. Some city council members want to see the state repeal a law that shields police disciplinary records from the public and pass a law that would ban the use of police chokeholds and create the crime of “strangulation in the first degree” for officers who continue to use it.

“The rage we are seeing in New York and nationally over the criminal justice system is justified,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson in announcing the proposed resolutions. “[It] won’t end until we send a clear message that we will not tolerate this kind of behavior and that there are consequences for using deadly techniques

Other resolutions considered and passed by city councils were more symbolic. Members of the city council in Birmingham, Alabama wore black ribbons as they passed a resolution in support of Floyd’s friends and family. Omaha, Nebraska, passed a resolution that said the city council “grieves with the family of George Floyd for their loss." Amherst, Massachusetts unanimously adopted a similar resolution because they felt “compelled to say affirmatively and with real compassion that violence like this is yet another blow to black and brown people—particularly African-American men—who too often are told by our culture that they do not matter.” 

Zoraya Hightower, a city councilmember in Burlington, Vermont, said that even just approving symbolic language is “necessary and valuable given the moment we’re in.” The city recently passed a resolution to condemn the killing of George Floyd and ask the city to fly the Black Lives Matter Flag—but Hightower said she would like to see the city soon take on new policies for use of force, civilian oversight of misconduct, and restorative justice practices. “Symbolic approaches need to be backed up by actual policy change,” she added. “But that is harder to negotiate and takes time. Rather than be inactive, we passed a resolution in solidarity.”

Los Angeles—where the council passed a resolution calling Floyd’s murder “cold-blooded”—seems to be the first city where the council is proposing significant budget cuts for the local police department. Defunding the police has been one of the most widespread policy proposals put forward by protesters, particularly those in Los Angeles. The city’s Black Lives Matter chapter recently drafted their own local spending plan, which they called “The People’s Budget,” which would reduce the amount the police receive from the city’s general fund from 53.8% of that pot of money to only 5.7%.

City Council President Nury Martinez is sponsoring a bill that requests up to $150 million in cuts to the police department—a relatively small chunk of the LAPD’s $3.1 billion budget. Martinez called it “a step in the right direction” that will allow the city to “re-examine [its] priorities” and redirect that money to services in communities of color.

“[Change] must be sustained and ongoing long after the marches and headlines end, but it begins with a fundamental question: ‘Where are we putting our limited dollars?’” Martinez said in a statement. “If we are going to finally end the sin of racism and all of its illogical, dehumanizing and sometimes deadly consequences, including in our police department, then we have to provide real solutions for real people who need our assistance. The peaceful marches and demonstrations throughout our city and nation, represent one important step, today’s legislation is another.”

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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