Biden’s Executive Order on Policing a Necessary Step Forward
Marc H. Morial
“Our criminal justice system must respect the dignity and rights of all persons and adhere to our fundamental obligation to ensure fair and impartial justice for all. This is imperative — not only to live up to our principles as a Nation, but also to build secure, safe, and healthy communities. Protecting public safety requires close partnerships between law enforcement and the communities it serves. Public safety therefore depends on public trust, and public trust in turn requires that our criminal justice system as a whole embodies fair and equal treatment, transparency, and accountability.” — President Biden, Executive Order on Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety
In the two years since Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, police have killed more than 2,000 people in the United States — even more in 2021 than in 2020. Black Americans remain nearly three times as likely as whites to be killed by police.
Yet many in Congress still refuse to act.
President Biden’s executive order on policing, issued on the anniversary of Floyd’s murder, incorporates several elements of 21 Pillars for Redefining Public Safety and Restoring Community Trust, the National Urban League’s own plan for enhancing public safety and restoring trust between communities and law enforcement.
The executive order, which directly affects about 100,000 federal law enforcement officers, sets forth a model for state and local law enforcement agencies and uses carrots and sticks and incentives to encourage those agencies to make the same kind of reforms. It represents a measure of meaningful change and a critical acknowledgment of the pervasive systemic racism that has shattered the trust between police and communities of color.
But it is no substitute for the broad federal legislation we have sought, or for the full implementation of our 21 Pillars in every community across the nation.
On June 9, I’ll join Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, for the latest stop in our 21 Pillars Tour, which already has included events in Louisville, Kentucky, Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago.
In each of these cities, trust between the police and the communities they serve was broken. In Louisville, the officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in a botched raid escaped consequences after prosecutors misled a grand jury. In Columbus, police used physical violence, tear gas and pepper spray against peaceful protesters without provocation in what a federal judge called “the sad tale of officers, clothed with the awesome power of the state, run amok.” A recent study of Chicago Police found that their misconduct is a group phenomenon, involving more than 1,000 “deviant, even criminal” officers, that inflict outsized harm in communities of color. And in Kansas City, officers are accused of excessive and deadly force against Black and Brown Kansas Citians, constitutional violations, and discriminatory patterns and practices.
The 21 Pillars centers on five key themes that are fundamental to the protection and preservation of life, dignity, trust, and safer communities: collaboration, accountability, changing divisive policies, transparency, and elevated standards for hiring and training police. The Tour is aimed at familiarizing communities with the plan’s objectives, amplify the issues and concerns relevant in each city, and advocate for policy solutions.
With the incorporation of several elements of the 21 Pillars into President Biden’s executive order, the plan already is having an impact. Key provisions of the order include:
• Bans on chokeholds and carotid restraints by federal law enforcement officers except where deadly force is authorized. (Pillar 10)
• New federal standards and training for use of force. (Pillars 4, 9, and 20)
• Restrictions on the use of no-knock entries by federal law enforcement officers. (Pillar 10)
• Creation of national law enforcement accountability database. (Pillar 14)
• Requirement for the use and activation of body-worn cameras by federal officers, and policies that provide for expedited release of footage. (Pillar 15)
• New models and federal funding available to innovate new responses to persons in crisis, as an alternative to police intervention (Pillars 4, 9, and 21)
• Restrictions on the transfer of the weapons of war to police departments (Pillar 12)
• New screening and training tools to counter bias, and strengthen investigations of law enforcement agencies that violate civil rights … so that all persons can have faith and confidence in the equity and fairness of the criminal justice system (Pillars 18, 19, 20, and 21)
Social parity, economic empowerment, and civil rights cannot be achieved in a world of unjust policing. President Biden’s Executive Order, guided by the principles outlined in 21 Pillars, can be the basis for safer, more effective, and community-centered law enforcement across the nation.
Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.