Chauvin verdict reignites calls for police reform in Pa. | Friday Morning Coffee

April 23, 2021 7:16 am

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listened to closing statements on April 19, 2021, in his trial for killing George Floyd (Photo via The Minnesota Reformer).

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

From the U.S. Capitol to the halls of statehouses across the land, this week’s guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder case has reignited calls for police reform and for a new look at the way the United States conceives of law enforcement. And you can count lawmakers from Pennsylvania among that chorus of voices calling for change.

On Wednesday, a trio of Democratic lawmakers in the state House called attention to a month-old bill banning police chokeholds, including the one that Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, used to kill George Floyd, a Black man, last May.Floyd was under Chauvin’s knee for more than nine minutes, a scene captured on video, and shared the world over, sparking the most intense civil rights protests in a generation.

“While we collectively revel in this moment that justice was served for Mr. Floyd, we must recognize that this is but a small victory in the grand scope of protecting communities of color from police violence and meaningfully reforming our system,” Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement.  “… a jury unanimously decided that chokeholds are acts of murder, and this decision should compel us to examine policies of our own law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth.”

Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, another sponsor of the proposal, stressed the importance of moving quickly on reform measures while public attention is still focused on the verdict — an effort that has gained further momentum with other police-involved killings of Black people in Columbus, Ohio, and suburban Minneapolis, in the last week.

“We must act now and work to ban archaic practices that put citizens’ lives at risk. Chokeholds should be a uniformly forbidden practice across all law enforcement agencies in the Commonwealth,” Kim said in a statement.

Chokeholds are forbidden practices for accredited departments, the lawmakers said, citing the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. However, only 127 of the more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies in the commonwealth are accredited, the lawmakers added.

“The overwhelming lack of uniform accreditation reveals that too many of our law enforcement agencies ultimately lack oversight, and therefore may continue to utilize practices prohibited by the Chief of Police Association. Knowingly allowing this issue to go unaddressed is a slap in the face to those demanding police accountability,” Kinsey said. “My bill provides an opportunity to ensure that police are held accountable for their actions so that we don’t have another George Floyd, Eric Garner, Ricky Bellevue or other unarmed Black and Brown lives claimed by these malicious chokeholds.”

A Pittsburgh Police officer holds a pepper spray canister up to a protester in Downtown Pittsburgh on July 4, 2020 (Pittsburgh City Paper photo)

In a joint statement, a group of progressive politicians from Philadelphia called for the kind of systemic change that would end many interactions with law enforcement in the first place, including “the criminalization of poverty, hyper surveillance of communities of color, and militarization of police do not keep our communities safe.

“We have seen firsthand that we cannot incarcerate our way out of structural problems, including the problem of police violence. In order to achieve true justice and safety, we need to tackle the causes of police violence at their roots: white supremacy and racial capitalism,” the progressive pols, who included state Reps. Chris RabbElizabeth Fiedler, Rick Krajewski  and Sen Nikil Saval, and Philadelphia City Councilmembers Helen Gym, Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier said.

“We need to recognize the distinction between what truly keeps us safe and what perpetuates systemic harm. The criminalization of poverty, hyper surveillance of communities of color, and militarization of police do not keep our communities safe,” they continued. “We must redirect the money spent on systems of oppression and instead invest in community resources and services, in housing, and in public schools. We must commit to following the leads of the communities who are most directly impacted and can best shape a new vision of public safety.”

Without delving into the specifics of any proposal, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which represents county prosecutors, said it was “committed to being part of holistic and meaningful change. We have participated in honest reflection and tough conversations.

“Creating safe communities means creating safe communities for everyone no matter the color of their skin. Intentions aren’t enough. Our work continues to ensure the reality of an equitable justice system,” the prosecutors’ group said.

On Thursday, at the funeral for Daunte Wright, the Minnesota man who died in a confrontation with police earlier this month, the Rev. Al Sharpton said activists would continue their push for a sweeping police reform bill, approved by the U.S. House, that bears Floyd’s name. The bill would, among other things, ban certain “no-knock” warrants, and create a nationwide database of police misconduct.

“In the name of Daunte, we are going to pass the “George Floyd [Justice in] Policing Act” as federal law,” Sharpton said, according to CNN. “We are going to make it against he law across this country to keep having funerals for our young princes … God has turned the page in the state of Minnesota and we’re never going back no more.”

While many Americans continue to support law enforcement, there’s also broad support for reform, as Vox reports. A majority of American voters want to see Congress pass the House-approved reform bill. They also support the specifics of its provisions, “including a federal ban on chokeholds (71 percent), mandated body cameras for federal officers (84 percent), a prohibition of racial profiling (71 percent), and an end to “qualified immunity” for officers in legal cases (59 percent),” Vox reported.

In Pennsylvania, the House lawmakers said their bill, now before the House Judiciary Committee, would “[provide] a clear policy for police forces across the state on the use of restraint, making it absolutely clear that there is no safe way to use a neck restraint when apprehending a suspect. A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, is now before the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

“No matter what they might believe, the use of it is against the law,” Rep. Jason Dawkins, the chairman of Philadelphia’s House delegation, said. “It gives me great pain to know that George Floyd died at the hands of police and died in this way, and that it had to be recorded for people to finally wake up to the reality of police brutality across our nation.”

We’re at another turning point in our politics. A jury has spoken. The people have spoken. Policymakers need only to listen. They can’t let this opportunity for change pass them by.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
A new Republican and Democratic caucus in the state House is looking to build bipartisanship by eliminating duplicative services and consolidating administrative functions before taking on bigger policy questions, Stephen Caruso reports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a year-long extension of a waiver program that lets schools send free food home with students who are learning remotely, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

Gov. Tom Wolf has signed legislation extending Pennsylvania’s corporate tax filing deadline to May 17, bringing it in line with the federal government, Cassie Miller reports.

The U.S. House has passed a D.C. statehood bill, but as before, it faces an uncertain fate in the U.S. Senate, our Washington Reporter Laura Olson writes.

The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce has launched a new program elevating Black- and Brown-owned businesses, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

The influential United Mine Workers have come out in support of a transition to clean energy, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, columnist Trish Zornio, of our sibling site Colorado Newsline, says a just verdict in the Chauvin case is not justice, it’s accountability — and we need more. And a Palo Alto University expert says parents can support a child who comes out as transgender by conquering their own fears, following their child’s lead and tolerating ambiguity.

En la Estrella-Capital: El activista LGBTQ de Filadelfia Jonathan Lovitz anuncia la candidatura para ser el Representante del asiento de la Cámara de Brian Sims. Y Torsella vuelve a la junta del Sistema de Pensiones de Empleados de Escuelas Públicas de Pa. en medio de las investigaciones internas y externas.

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

The Philadelphia school district has committed $80 million in resources for the classroom this fall, the Inquirer reports.
The University of Pittsburgh is seeking the dismissal of student refund claims for tuition and fees over COVID-19, the Post-Gazette reports.
The state House has passed legislation that would keep stores open during a declared state of emergency, PennLive reports.
Both Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s Hospital say they have open appointments as demand for the vaccine has eased, the Morning Call reports.
One thousand people have died from COVID-19 in Lancaster CountyLancasterOnline reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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The University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University will require student vaccinations this fallWHYY-FM reports.
WHYY-FM’s Katie Meyer also runs down the state of police reform proposals in the state in the wake of the Chauvin verdict.
GoErie introduces you to the candidates for Erie County executive.
State Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-Delawarehas been reappointed chairperson of the House Democratic Campaign CommitteePolitcsPA reports.
Capitol Hill Democrats are shrugging at a $568 billion infrastructure alternative proposed by Republicans, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
11:30 a.m., Capitol Steps:
 Rally to support immigrants and how they support the economy. In other words, they get the job done.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
heads to Philadelphia for a 2 p.m. discussion on efforts to reduce gun violence in the city.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Natasha Lindstrom, of the Tribune-Review, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Because I am an enormous nerd, I recently got into a debate on Facebook about the best guitar-pairings in the history of rock. As you might expect from such a discussion, the answers were diverse, and the arguments were passionate. I cast my lead ballot for the duo of Mike Campbell and the late Tom Petty. They’re not flashy, but they do what the best guitarists do: Every note is in service to the song. Here’s the classic ‘The Waiting,’ caught live, for a stellar example of what I’m talking about here.

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Carolina skated past the Panthers 4-2 
on Thursday night. The ‘Canes sit atop the Discover Central Division with 67 points, two more than second place Florida. They’re 7-1-2 in their last 10 starts.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.