March 9, 2023

It's Not Enough

Russ Feingold President

Breonna Taylor should be alive today.

This week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded a multi-year investigation into the Louisville Police Department – an investigation launched in response to Taylor’s murder at the hands of police. In its report, DOJ concludes that it has “reasonable cause to believe” that Louisville and its police department engaged in “a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives people of their rights under the Constitution and federal law.” The report documents a litany of examples of police violence and racism, including warrantless searches, forced and violent entries into people’s homes, unjustified neck restraints, and the misuse of dogs and tasers.

It should not have taken Taylor losing her life for the Louisville Police Department to be scrutinized and their racist and violent practices condemned. Especially because these practices and civil rights violations did not start in 2020. DOJ’s report details years and years of such police misconduct and abuse. Going forward, the Louisville Police Department has agreed to address the findings in DOJ’s report through a “court-enforceable consent decree with an independent monitor.” This is too little, too late.

Members of Louisville have been speaking out for years, since well before Taylor’s death, that the police department was violating civil rights, discriminating against Black people in the community, and failing to do its job of protecting the residents of Louisville.

This dynamic is not unique to Louisville. Too often, Black residents have spoken out against police violence in their communities for years to no avail. The media doesn’t pay attention. Police departments ignore the complaints, protect abusive officers, and receive more and more state and local funding. Until an act of police violence is caught on camera. Only then do the news cameras turn on and is the police department put under public scrutiny.

Memphis is another such example. DOJ has announced an investigation into the Memphis Police Department following the murder of Tyre Nichols. Specifically, DOJ will be looking into the Memphis Police Department’s use of force and de-escalation tactics. But again, people in Memphis have complained about police brutality, including by the now deactivated “SCORPION Unit,” for years. Nobody listened until Nichols was killed on camera.

Police violence and police killings happen daily. According to the Washington Post, 1,092 people have been killed by police officers in the past year. That’s nearly three people per day. Stopping the epidemic that is police violence in this country requires more than DOJ investigations into select practices by select police departments. We are still, in 2023, utilizing a model of policing that originated with slave patrols. And to this day, Black Americans are more likely than any other racial group to experience harassment, excessive force, and death at the hands of police.

Yes, it’s good that DOJ investigated the Louisville Police Department and that its report is bringing to light the violence and racism that Black residents in Louisville have been confronting for years, but it is not enough. We need transformative change when it comes to policing in this country. Nothing short of that will do. Such change begins with listening to and believing Black communities about how they are treated at the hands of police.

Policing, Racial Justice