Civil Rights Commission Calls for ‘Constitutional Policing’

Protesters kneel in front of NYPD officers before being arrested for violating curfew on Wednesday in New York City. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Responding to more than a week of nationwide protests against police brutality toward black Americans, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights condemned recent killings Friday and urged police to act in line with the Constitution.  

In one of two statements Friday, the USCCR urged law enforcement officials “to follow constitutional policing practices in response to recent demonstrations,” and in the other it “unanimously condemned the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.”

“Three tragic cases in close succession involving the killing of unarmed individuals, including in one case killing a woman in her own home, underscore the need for federal vigilance and involvement,” the commission wrote, acknowledging the similarities between the incidents. 

Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was shot to death in February while jogging in a suburban neighborhood near his home in South Georgia. Two white men were arrested last month and charged with murder after video footage of the shooting ignited national outrage.

Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman, was shot by officers in Louisville, Kentucky, in March after police officers entered her apartment unannounced while executing a “no-knock” search warrant in a narcotics investigation.

Most recently, Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died last week after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s death on Memorial Day sparked massive protests in every state and across the world.

The USCCR, which is an independent, bipartisan government agency designed to advise the president and Congress on civil rights issues, called out the Department of Justice for not investigating the killings of Arbery and Taylor like it has announced it will do in the case of Floyd. 

“The commission acknowledges the Department of Justice decision to initiate a criminal investigation into the death of George Floyd…but urges DOJ to take steps necessary to build public trust in a federal commitment to constitutional policing practices and to ensuring nondiscrimination in police uses of force,” it wrote, also urging the DOJ to “initiate a pattern or practice investigation of any unconstitutional conduct by the Minneapolis Police Department.” 

Citing a 2018 report it published on use of force in modern policing practices, the commission noted that the “relationship between law enforcement and many communities in the U.S. is fraught and challenging, particularly for those who experience violent crimes coupled with intensive police presence and surveillance.”

Friday’s statement continued, “Where peaceful protest is aimed at law enforcement itself, the stakes could not be higher. And where marginalized communities are at the forefront of many of these peaceful demonstrations, overreaction to provocation and undertraining can result in potential civil rights violations and worse, have deadly consequences.”

Acknowledging that peaceful protesters and reporters have been harmed by officers using rubber bullets and other crowd-control tactics over the last week, the USCCR emphasized that police should use de-escalation tactics instead of force and that, if officers use body cameras, there should be clear penalties in place for any cops who misuse the footage.

“The public should be allowed to obtain footage of use of force incidents after investigations are complete,” the commission state.

Protesters and Black Lives Matter activists have said police are inciting violence at some otherwise peaceful protests.

“We have police showing up to peaceful protests in military grade gear, itching to use excessive force on peaceful demonstrators and journalists. This is what brings violence to protests,” Kailee Scales, managing director of the Black Lives Matter Global Foundation, tweeted Tuesday.  

President Donald Trump sparked outrage on Monday when he had peaceful protesters outside the White House tear-gassed so that he could walk over to a nearby church for a photo op — an incident that has already triggered a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter.

Widespread protests are expected to continue this weekend. Many organizers, such as those with Black Lives Matter, are using the demonstrations to call for an end to systemic racism in the United States.

“When people take to the streets and organize socially and politically, things change. Across the nation, people have given voice to the pain and damage that police brutality has caused,” Black Lives Matter tweeted Wednesday. “It is time for America to listen.”

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