Police and the People: Perspective on Police Reform

The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police in early 2020 sparked protests across the world, drawing critical attention to how Americans relate to the police officers sworn to protect and serve them. To understand this relationship, this paper reviews the historical background on policing and police reform in the United States, outlines the current environment and obstacles to reform, and looks at actions being taken in the wake of public outcry in America to forge a new path forward. The historical record shows that policing practices in the United States have largely been influenced by political considerations rather than genuine efforts to curb or control crime. Whereas recent protests and calls for action seem directed at the United States federal government, control of around 18,000 municipal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies stems from the local level. To address the number of issues that plague police relations, such as the strength of police unions, qualified immunity, and the militarization of law enforcement, meaningful changes must be made at the state and local levels. Action being taken at the federal level in the wake of public outcry, although not insignificant, may only be symbolic in nature, as the November Presidential election looms and Congress remains divided.