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How 2 weeks of protests have changed America

Protesters have already brought about reforms to address systemic racism and police brutality following George Floyd’s death.

Protesters gather at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on June 9.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

The nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death, police brutality, and systemic racism have made an immediate impact.

Minneapolis announced on June 7 that it will dismantle its police force and rebuild law enforcement from the ground up. Police departments in cities ranging from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Denver, Colorado, have reached agreements with their communities to improve accountability for their law enforcement officers.

Beyond these policy changes are broad culture shifts. Across the South, cities have brought down Confederate monuments and removed other homages to former slaveowners — accelerating a process that began with the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in 2015.

Meanwhile, polling shows a sudden, seismic shift in public opinion: 57 percent of Americans and 49 percent of white respondents now believe that police are more likely to use excessive force against African Americans. In 2014, after Eric Garner died in police custody, only 33 percent of Americans and 26 percent of white respondents said so.

More than two-thirds of Americans believe that Floyd’s killing indicated broader issues in the way police treat black Americans, rather than just an isolated incident. By a two-to-one margin, voters are also more concerned by the actions of police in relation to Floyd’s killing than they are about violent protesters. (The protests have, by and large, been peaceful.)

And lawmakers at both the state and federal level are working on reform legislation. Democrats in Congress unveiled a sweeping police reform bill that would make lynching a federal crime, ban chokeholds, make it easier to charge officers with using excessive force, and curtail “qualified immunity” for those involved in wrongful injuries or deaths.

Activists have introduced detailed plans for meaningful police reform. Some have endorsed the 8 Can’t Wait reform platform, which includes remedies such as banning chokeholds, changing reporting protocols for use-of-force incidents, and mandating that police intervene when they witness misconduct. Others have called for even more radical measures: defunding or abolishing the police.

Here are major changes states and cities have made since the death of George Floyd on May 25:

Improving police accountability and restricting use of force

  • Minneapolis officials announced that they reached a tentative agreement with the state to ban chokeholds and require police to intervene when witnessing another officer engaging in misconduct. The agreement still needs to be approved by a judge before it can go into effect.
  • A veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to dismantle its police force a day after Mayor Jacob Frey was booed by a crowd of protesters for saying he opposed the measure. “[W]hen we’re done, we’re not simply gonna glue it back together,” Jeremiah Ellison, a Minneapolis City Council member, said on Twitter last week. “We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response.”
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a four-step “Say Their Name” agenda for police reform that would make police disciplinary records transparent, ban chokeholds, make false race-based 911 reports a hate crime, and require the New York Attorney General to act as an independent prosecutor for police officers accused of murder.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom directed police officers in the state to stop administering training on the carotid hold, a type of chokehold designed to cut off blood flow to the brain. Other kinds of chokeholds that aim to restrict airflow through the windpipe are already banned in the state. He said he also plans to sign legislation banning carotid holds.
  • Denver police announced a series of policy changes, including a ban on chokeholds, requiring officers to report anytime they point a gun at someone, and mandating that SWAT officers turn on their body cameras during tactical operations.
  • The New York state legislature started to approve a package of reforms that had been opposed by police unions, including a ban on chokeholds, and measures to increase transparency around police officers’ disciplinary records. Gov. Cuomo said he’s planning to sign the bills into law.
  • The Phoenix City Council approved $3 million in funding for a new police civilian oversight board.
  • The San Jose Police Department voluntarily adopted policies clarifying its prohibition on chokeholds, requiring police to intercede and report incidents of officer misconduct, developing updated crowd control training, prohibiting the use of projectile weapons in crowd control situations (except in incidents where individuals are threatening officers or other peaceful protesters), and fostering community engagement.
  • The Lincoln Police Department in Nebraska signed an agreement with community members to create a new “Hold Cops Accountable” initiative facilitating monthly town halls for the public to offer feedback. Anyone who voices a concern will be offered the opportunity to file a formal complaint with the Lincoln Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit or the Citizen’s Police Advisory Board.
  • The Austin City Council in Texas unanimously agreed to slash funding for the hiring of new police officers and for some of the weapons used against protesters, including tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds. They also agreed to ban chokeholds and no knock-warrants, scale back militarized equipment, allocate an additional $1.5 million to first-responder mental health calls, set a goal of zero racial disparities in arrests and traffic stops and create a new public safety committee that will be tasked with police oversight, among other measures.

Tear gas bans

  • Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a 30-day ban on the use of tear gas against protesters. (Police have nevertheless used tear gas on protesters thereafter, and activists have since called for her resignation.)
  • Members of the Allegheny County Council, which encompasses Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, introduced a bill to ban tear gas, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades, and bean-bag rounds.
  • Members of the New Orleans and Washington, DC, city councils proposed banning the use of tear gas against protesters in their cities.
  • A Colorado federal judge temporarily banned the use of projectiles and chemical weapons, including tear gas, on protesters, writing that the Denver Police Department had “failed in its duty to police its own.”

Defunding the police and reducing police presence

  • The Los Angeles City Council filed a motion to reduce the Los Angeles Police Department’s $1.8 billion operating budget by up to $150 million for the upcoming fiscal year and redirect those funds to “disadvantaged communities and communities of color.”
  • The Portland Superintendent announced that police will no longer patrol the area’s nine public high schools and that the district will increase funding for social workers, counselors, and other support for students.
  • The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis public schools, and the city’s Park and Recreation Board announced that they were cutting ties with the city’s police department.
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to redirect funds from the police force to youth and social services, arguing that young people “need to be reached, not policed” on Twitter.

Tearing down Confederate statues and racist symbols

  • The US Marine Corps officially banned displays of the Confederate battle flag in public and work spaces on its military bases. The US Navy will soon follow suit.
  • Protesters tore down the statue of Confederate Gen. Williams Carter Wickham in Richmond’s Monroe Park.
  • Protesters took down a memorial to Edward Carmack, a former lawmaker and newspaper publisher who endorsed white supremacy in Nashville outside the Tennessee State Capitol. However, state law mandates that the statue be repaired and replaced, unless the state’s Historical Commission and the State Capitol Commission decide otherwise.
  • A Confederate monument on the University of Mississippi campus was spray-painted with the words “spiritual genocide” and red handprints.
  • The mayor of Birmingham agreed to dismantle a five-story monument to Confederate troops, urging protesters not to do so themselves. “Allow me to finish the job for you,” he said, despite the Alabama Attorney General threatening legal action if he proceeds.
  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he would take down another prominent statue of Lee on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
  • Both a statue and mural of former Philadelphia mayor and policy commissioner Frank Rizzo — which current Mayor Jim Kenney called symbols of “bigotry, hatred and oppression for too many people, for too long” — were taken down. Rizzo, who once told voters to “vote White,” took an aggressive stance on policing in black and minority communities.

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