In Kirk Bulkhalter’s admittedly optimistic assessment, the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer who suffocated George Floyd with his knee in front of the camera in May of last year, could be the start of a process of rebuilding the Americans’ confidence in their police.
“I have never seen a police chief or a commander testify against one of his officers in a criminal case. And that could be a start, ”says Bulkhalter, who is Professor of Criminal Law at New York Law School (NYLS) after 20 years of experience in the New York Police Department (USA), where he followed in his footsteps. dad. .
“More than seeing Derek Chauvin punished, people need to see the system work, the accountability and the changes made.”
Bulkhalter runs The 21st Century Police Project, a program to reform the police and bring together police services and the diverse communities they serve.
This Friday (9), he participated in the webinar “Racial Disparities and Police Reform in the USA and Brazil”, promoted by the Center for Racial Justice and Law of FGV Direito SP.
The meeting was opened by FGV Director Direito SP and Folha columnist Oscar Vilhena and the Cultural Attaché of the US Consulate in São Paulo, Madelina Young-Smith. The debate, in addition to Bulkhalter, included the coordinator of the Brazilian Public Security Forum and the core researcher, Marta Machado and Felipe Freitas. Mediation was provided by Thiago Amparo, coordinator of the Center for Racial Justice and Law and columnist for Folha.
Since 2012, the confidence of the American population in the security forces and in the means of holding them accountable for abuses and crimes has been betrayed. The year marked the start of a sad string of scandals involving the murder of young black men by security guards and police, who were later acquitted by the courts, and paved the way for the emergence of Black. Lives Matter (BLM).
The movement denouncing police brutality against blacks has led the wave of protests that erupted after Floyd’s assassination, supporting demands for corporate budget cuts, the so-called “defund”.
“Today, the police and the BLM are more detached than ever and with no prospect of reconciliation,” Bulkhalten says.
For him, the main effect of this anti-racist movement was “to make the police more paranoid, thinking that every time they get out of the car, someone can film them and try to punish them”, which would have created a “police effect recedes in its actions to the extent that the use of force would be supported by qualified immunity”.
“Apart from the police, the BLM has had more effect on political processes and their representatives, who now put pressure on the country’s police services,” he said.
Since June 2020, the US Congress has attempted to pass the so-called George Floyd Act, the biggest police reform in decades. The law, which has passed the House and has yet to pass the Senate, includes measures such as a ban on strangulation during police action, the end of warrants that allow officers to enter the premises without publicity – as in the action that killed them Breonna Taylor – and the end of “qualified immunity”, a kind of exclusion from illegality applied to certain cases.
Analysts have called for budget cuts and the withdrawal of police forces as possible causes for the increase in violent crime in the United States last year. Chicago has seen the number of homicides double in 2020. In New York, murders have increased by 40%. In Los Angeles, 30%.
“I am totally in favor of more transparency on corporate spending, but the truth is, we may not be spending enough on the right items,” Bulkhalter says.
“In any type of career, it is necessary to increase salaries to attract more qualified people. So we have to take that into account when we talk about policing spending. The goal is to have a more efficient police force. “
Passionate about police training, Bulkhalter likes to illustrate his point of view with one thing: “Today a New York police officer receives six months of training and takes to the streets. A hairdresser, on the other hand, needs a one-year course to obtain a license to cut his hair ”.
“The training should last two years and continue thereafter. The police have the power to take a person’s freedom and use force against them. Mixing this with the lack of education and training received is toxic. “
Black, he says he witnessed a few explicit episodes of racism from fellow police officers. “What I saw was individual racial prejudice, like when a colleague wanted to stop two black men in a Porsche with a ski rack because he was convinced black people didn’t ski,” recalls he laughs.
“I have been skiing since I was a child! I took an educated and calm approach that taught my colleague a lesson. And the skiers continued on their way.
For the professor and former police officer, American businesses have always been “boys’ clubs, almost all white”, and it was only after George Floyd’s assassination that he saw “black officers being promoted to managerial and managerial positions “. .
He believes that increasing the diversity of police corporation command posts is an important step in preventing further murders of blacks by police officers from occurring in the United States.
“Everything emanates from command posts. Someone in these leadership positions has to stand up and say that some attitudes are just unreasonable.