Washington, D.C. - Our nation has been gripped over the last four weeks by the outpouring of anger and condemnation of the callous murder of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer. The sight of Mr. Floyd dying with the officer’s knee pressing against his neck was a graphic visual that thrust the nation out of its centuries-long denial that America has a race problem, and that this problem is pervasive and systemic.
The horror viewed by Americans of all races and ethnicities lends credence to a fact that Black people have long known: Since the dawn of this country’s beginning, African Americans have disproportionately been victims of lethal violence at the hands of those charged with maintaining public safety.
In keeping with its civil and human rights values and its Code of Ethics, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) immediately denounced the killing of Mr. Floyd and the persistent failure to stop the disproportionate practice of the use of excessive and lethal force against Black people.
We have long called for reforms in such reprehensible policing policies and practices. NASW stands with and is supportive of the millions of protestors from all walks of life who demand that our nation finally fully acknowledge, and make manifest, that Black Lives Matter.
NASW salutes the courage of the tens of millions of people who have taken a stand and declared “Enough is enough!” Their courage has been rewarded by getting the attention of President Trump, the Senate, and the House - each of which have now proposed policies and legislation ostensibly aimed at bringing about police reforms. The Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 7120), introduced on June 8 by social worker Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, comes close to getting it right.
The Trump Administration’s executive order (EO) on police reform is inadequate to respond to this longstanding crisis. It does not mandate national use of force guidelines, ban chokeholds or greatly curtail no-knock warrants nor does it attribute African Americans’ risk for bodily harm or death during a police encounter to systemic racism.
Ending systemic racism cannot be achieved with a single act of Congress. Numerous reforms are needed at all levels. But the Justice in Policing Act is a crucial step forward. This urgently needed legislation, supported by more than 200 members of the House, calls for comprehensive changes in police culture and policies - changes that address the systemic, root causes of distrust of police in communities of color. The essential provisions in the bill include:
(1) Banning racial and religious profiling
(2) Mandating national use of force guidelines
(3) Banning the use of chokeholds
(4) Ending no-knock warrants except in extreme cases
(5) Ending the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies
(6) Mandating the creation of a national data base of police fired for use of excessive force
(7) Ending qualified Immunity for police accused of violating excessive force policies
Widespread demonstrations in cities large and small, including non-Black allies, lays bare that our nation is at an inflection point. NASW applauds states and localities that - with or without federal mandates that incentivize policing reform - plan to reallocate and reinvest their public safety budgets to provide behavioral health, social services, crisis intervention (de-escalation) training and other programs.
The social work profession will continue to be part of the solution and lead the way in reimagining public safety. Social workers have had, and will continue to have, a major role providing antiracist services and developing antiracist policies in all sectors of the criminal justice system. And NASW will continue to work to support the profession in achieving these aims.