“I can’t breathe.” Those were the last words George Floyd uttered before he was killed by a police officer who kneeled directly on Floyd’s neck for seven straight minutes while he lay prostrate on the ground with his hands handcuffed behind his back, in broad daylight.
Floyd’s death comes in the wake of a series of acts of racist violence against African Americans that remind us of the astounding levels of violence and discrimination in the USA that black and brown communities face. This includes the killing of Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was shot in her sleep by the police who broke into her apartment, and the killing of Stephon Clark, who was shot and killed in his grandmother’s backyard with nothing but a cellphone in his pocket, and so many more we may never have the chance to hear their names.
There are approximately 1,000 people killed by police annually in the US, and African Americans are more than twice as likely to be killed by police as white people. But those aren’t just numbers. Each represents a person’s life: someone’s parent, sibling, cousin, nephew, spouse, child. The core principle of policing is to respect and preserve human life, yet our laws clearly do not reflect this principle.
When interacting with police we all have a right to be safe, be free from discrimination, be equally protected before the law and survive the encounter. Anyone whose rights have been violated has the right to remedy. In a case when a person is killed as a result of a law enforcement officer’s unlawful use of lethal force, the family has the right to an effective remedy. Our current body of laws regarding police use of lethal force makes that incredibly rare.
Until we reform laws governing the use of lethal force by police, tragedies will continue to occur. The PEACE Act proposes a major step toward protecting individuals and families most impacted by unlawful killings and excessive use of force by police. Not only would it change the standard around use of lethal force to help prevent deadly confrontations, it also would hold officers accountable for unnecessary force resulting from gross negligence.