Despite George Floyd, police violence has not weakened in the United States

Shocked by the death of Tire Nichols, America has once again reopened the debate on police violence, with the feeling that the major demonstrations of 2020 have not solved the problem.

The 29-year-old African-American died in hospital three days after being beaten to death by black Memphis police officers, who have since been charged with murder.

“It’s sad we’re still here in America, I can’t believe it,” said Lora King, daughter of Rodney King, whose beating by police in 1991 inflamed CNN. Los Angeles.

“We have to do better, it’s unacceptable.”

The murder of African-American George Floyd, suffocated under the knee of a white policeman, had nevertheless sparked historic mobilization in the spring of 2020, and, under pressure from the street, promises of reform had flourished in all states. -United.

Two years later, the number of people who died during interactions with the police has yet broken a record, with 1,186 dead for the year 2022, the highest in ten years, according to the site “Mapping Police Violence”. Among them were 26% of African Americans, while they represent only 13% of the population.

Protesters face off against police in Los Angeles, California on January 27, 2023 (AFP – Frederic J. Brown)

By way of comparison, less than 20 people die each year in France during police interventions, a difference linked in particular to the large quantity of firearms in circulation, increasing the feeling of insecurity among American police officers and making them more prompt. to draw their own weapon. In fact, 66 officers were shot on duty last year, according to the fund created in their memory.

But for lawyer Ben Crump, who represented the family of George Floyd and now supports that of Tire Nichols, there is also “an institutionalized culture in the police which tolerates excessive use of force, especially against minorities” .

“We’re going to have to have this (discussion) again and have it again, and again, until it stops,” he told a conference on Friday. Press.

– “Useless and aggressive” –

Among the 2020 promises was plans to tackle the broad immunity enjoyed by police officers in the United States or to create a registry of officers who have used excessive force.

A federal bill initially backed by both parties, however, flopped in Congress amid a sharp rise in homicides that caused Republicans to retreat to their classic ‘law and order’ rhetoric. .

Demonstrators against police violence in New York on January 27, 2023 (AFP - Yuki IWAMURA)
Demonstrators against police violence in New York on January 27, 2023 (AFP – Yuki IWAMURA)

In the absence of federal progress, the debate continued locally, in small steps and in the greatest cacophony.

There are indeed in the United States nearly 18,000 autonomous police entities (municipal police, county sheriffs, state patrols, etc.) which have their own rules for recruitment, training and authorized practices.

A number of them have reviewed their intervention rules, in particular prohibiting strangulation, generalizing the use of on-board cameras or increasing penalties for violent officers.

Memphis police have banned their officers from entering homes without announcing themselves, insisted on their “duty to intervene” in the face of violent colleagues, and reviewed their training in de-escalation techniques.

Still, “officers directly escalated the tension” when they attempted to arrest Tire Nichols for a simple traffic violation, local police chief Cerelyn Davis said.

A man writes
A man writes “the police lie” on the ground, in front of a police car, in Washington on January 27, 2023 (AFP – Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

For activists, the heart of the problem is that the American police have broad powers of arrest, even for minor offenses.

“We need to stop relying on the police to manage problems related to poverty or underinvestment in certain neighborhoods,” said Kathy Sinback, director of the local branch of the powerful civil rights organization ACLU. “This leads to more frequent, unnecessary and aggressive actions.”

According to Human Rights Watch, US police have killed nearly 600 people in roadside checks since 2017.

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