Rutgers sociologist Paul Hirschfield is available to discuss U.S. police violence and how policing has changed since the murder of George Floyd. Hirschfield has researched why rates of police lethality in the United States are much higher than in Europe and most recently wrote Policing the Police: U.S. and European Models.
“Since George Floyd was murdered by police so much has changed in American policing and so much has not,” said Hirschfield. “Before the murder, public and official discourse centered on changes police departments need to implement to become more restrained, transparent and accountable. But Floyd's murder and ensuing massive public outcry immediately triggered widespread recognition that the system led Derek Chauvin and his accomplices to completely disregard Floyd's health and humanity--and the risk of meaningful accountability--was incapable of fixing itself. Instead, the public demanded external actors impose reforms on the police and/or invest in alternative approaches to community safety that do not involve armed police. Calls for the democratic governance of policing created unprecedented political opportunities for various city councils, mayors, state legislatures and state attorneys general to enact bold reforms that previously would have gone nowhere such as making police disciplinary records public, restricting how and when police can use deadly force, limiting qualified immunity and delegating some "police work" to unarmed traffic agents and social workers. Even the U.S. House of Representatives passed the most sweeping federal police bill I have ever seen with The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
“Although the reforms that have passed in the last year are remarkable, the appetite for substantive police reform varies greatly across America's fragmented social landscape. Calls to "defund the police" and jarring news accounts of unrest, looting and rising violent crime were easily (and sometimes cynically) weaponized by opponents of police reform. Most police and sheriff's departments are small and simply lack the resources and the political will needed to implement substantive reforms. Few state governments are providing meaningful assistance and mandates. Just how little has changed for the majority of police departments was poignantly demonstrated April 21, the very day after Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder, when police in North Carolina fatally shot Andrew Brown Jr. in the back of his head as he fled in his car and when the local district attorney exonerated the officers less than a month later. The DA and a local judge have refused to release the full body camera footage.”
“The past year has been a study in contrasts. Some politicians, in order to be responsive and accountable to the people, have passed unprecedented, substantive police reforms including humane policing alternatives. Other politicians, citing the exact same motive, have permitted police officers get away with a seeming cold-blooded murder vividly captured on camera. Meanwhile, the consequences of past inactions and injustices continue to smolder.”
Hirschfield is an associate professor of sociology and an affiliated professor in the criminal justice program at Rutgers New-Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences. His research includes a range of topics pertaining to crime and justice with an emphasis on their relationship to youth, education and social policy as well as deadly force by police.
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