Black people have been killed, Black people are dying at the hands of police, our country is in crisis, and we all need to take action. We cannot sit on the sidelines, we cannot acquiesce, and we cannot assign responsibility to others. We, as leaders in the LGBTQ movement, must rise up and call for structural change, for divestment of police resources and reinvestment in communities, and for long-term transformational change. Now is the time to take action, and this letter amplifies our strong calls for urgent and immediate action to be taken.
Ongoing police brutality and systemic racism have plagued this nation for generations and have been captured on video and laid bare to the public in the United States and around the world. In 2019, more than 1,000 people were killed at the hands of the police.1 We mourn the unacceptable and untimely deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Stephon Clark, Freddie Gray, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Mya Hall, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and many more who were gone too soon.
We have seen with increased frequency the shocking video footage of police brutality. Officers have been recorded instigating violence, screaming obscenities, dragging individuals out of cars, using unnecessary force, holding individuals at gunpoint, and kneeling on peoples’ necks to the desperate plea of “I can’t breathe.” These occurrences are stark reminders of a police system that needs structural changes, deconstruction, and transformation. No one should fear for their lives when they are pulled over by the police. Parents should not have to “have a talk” about how to engage with the police to their children. We as a nation are bleeding, and it is now, once again, time to call for change at every level of government.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with more than 400 other civil rights organizations including LGBTQ organizations, outlined critical steps ranging from demilitarizing law enforcement to ending qualified immunity that must be taken at the federal level to end police brutality and create accountability. In response to the continued violence, Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), working closely with the Congressional Black Caucus and other leaders in Congress, introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 20202 that reflects those core priorities that we support.3
We also call for a divestment of public funding from police and a reinvestment in communities.4 Specifically, both the power and scope of police responsibilities should be significantly curtailed, by shifting certain responsibilities – such as mental health crisis response – from armed police officers to the professionals who are properly trained and better equipped to manage those responsibilities. True change must include the following principles.
1. Divesting of Public Funding From Police and Investing in Our Communities
Public funding should be shifted from police to reinvesting in our communities. Crime is often a symptom of scarcity and our frayed social safety net is sorely underfunded. The United States spends twice as much on policing, prisons, and courts as it does on direct welfare programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and supplemental social security.5 Congress, states, and local governments can reduce incidents of crime and create healthy communities by investing in direct assistance programs, affordable housing, education, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and early intervention programs (including violence interruption programs).
2. Shifting Most First Responder Responsibilities Away From Police
Our current crisis-response system should place healthcare workers, like social workers and psychiatrists, at the frontline of immediate health crisis events, not police officers. Inadequate healthcare and a lack of social safety nets have led to increased police interaction with individuals experiencing mental health crises. As a result, police officers are often called to assist in mental health emergencies, despite having little or no relevant training. This should change.
3. End Predictive Policing
We must address and stop the current use of predictive policing techniques that disproportionately affect minority communities. Predictive policing forecasts crime using algorithmic techniques, based on historical crime data, to determine where to deploy police and who is most likely to commit a crime. Not only does this dangerously reinforce discriminatory biases in the criminal justice system, resulting in over-policing of vulnerable communities, such as people of color and those from the LGBTQ community, but there is a lack of transparency from agencies that employ this method.6 Law enforcement agencies are often not required to share how or what data is being analyzed. Furthermore, these predictive technologies serve to escalate the level of enforcement and increase police presence in communities that are already over-surveilled. All law enforcement strategies must take into account the privacy concerns of the communities being policed, as well as the impact of over-policing on vulnerable communities. The use of predictive policing algorithms disregards both.
4. Police Union Contracts Should Be Made Public and Officers Held Liable
Currently, police union contracts make it nearly impossible for civilians to view information about officers, including incidents of prior misconduct.7 In doing so, police officers are shielded from accountability for their actions. The disciplinary history of a police officer whose personnel records are riddled with instances of misconduct and bad behavior should not be protected from public scrutiny. Making these contracts public and removing barriers that restrict access to records of police misconduct would allow for greater transparency and oversight and are necessary for public safety. Police union contracts must also hold police officers financially liable for killings and excessive use of force, including ending paid administrative leave and eligibility to be rehired by police departments.
As we consider these proposals, we should also evaluate how we reduce our over-reliance on policing to secure public safety.
We, the undersigned, call out for change and call out for change now. There is no state, no municipal jurisdiction, and no law enforcement agency where transformational changes are not necessary and urgent. When celebrating Pride Month this June, we must remember that the protests and riots from Compton’s Cafeteria to Stonewall were sparked by Black and Latinx transgender women calling for police reform due to harassment and mistreatment of LGBTQ people. We commemorate the history of the LGBTQ Movement, namely our resistance to police harassment and brutality across the nation, when such violence was common and expected. We remember this time as transformative, where we overcame our pain and fear to push for the ability to live a more authentic and free life. Today, we join together again to say that enough is enough.
The time for structural change and transformation is now.
- Police Violence Map, Mᴀᴘᴘɪɴɢ Pᴏʟɪᴄᴇ Vɪᴏʟᴇɴᴄᴇ (last updated May, 29, 2020), https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/.
- Justice in Policing Act 2020, H.R. 7120, June 8, 2020, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/7120/.
- Civil Rights Coalition Letter on Federal Policing Priorities, June 1, 2020, https://civilrights.org/resource/civil-rights-coalition-letter-on-federal-policing-priorities/.
- These calls for change are also referred to by some as “defunding the police.”
- Christopher Ingraham, U.S. spends twice as much on law and order as it does on cash welfare, data show, Wᴀsʜ. Pᴏsᴛ (June 4, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/06/04/us-spends-twice-much-law-order-it- does-social-welfare-data-show/.
- Tim Lau, Predictive Policing Explained, Bʀᴇɴɴᴀɴ Cᴛʀ. ғᴏʀ Jᴜsᴛ. (Apr. 1, 2020), https://www.brennancenter.org/ our-work/research-reports/predictive-policing-explained.
- Fair Police Contracts, Cᴀᴍᴘᴀɪɢɴ Zᴇʀᴏ, https://www.joincampaignzero.org/contracts.