Advocates, impacted families, and communities across the country rallied behind the need for police accountability legislation such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The decision by negotiators like Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) that addressing the issue of qualified immunity – a key demand of those seeking to ensure a chance to obtain accountability for unconstitutional policing – was a “red line” he would not cross, doomed the effort to craft a bill that would be responsive to the demand and meet the moment.
Fortunately, despite the refusal of too many members of Congress to confront the truths of our current system of policing, a number of states and localities have recognized the urgency of this moment and have taken steps to address police violence and egregious misconduct through landmark accountability legislation, and bold, creative interventions to transform public safety.
Advocates around the country, many of whom had been working on policing issues for decades, achieved reforms in the past year that once seemed unthinkable. A wave of policing-related bills and policies were introduced on the local, state, and federal levels. In state legislatures alone, 3,000 policing related bills were introduced in response to the summer of protests.
This legislative progress is a direct result of the tireless efforts of community members and grassroots activists across the country. Their organizing, united front against racial injustice, and voices calling for police accountability spurred these changes.
The index below is organized by state and city, and covers improvements that: strengthen accountability for law enforcement, and work to create fundamental changes to public safety systems.*
George Floyd’s brutal killing on May 25, 2020, sparked mass protests and uprisings across the globe that shifted our understanding of the fundamental changes needed to our system of public safety. In the midst of a pandemic, millions of people took to the streets to demand accountability for the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, and deep, structural changes to the systems that rob the lives of Black people throughout the United States.
Meaningful federal legislation to broadly transform policing should have been swiftly enacted in response. Instead, despite the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act by the House of Representatives in 2020 and 2021 the bill officially stalled in the Senate. The failure of this legislation to move forward is a failure for our democracy. The people spoke by the millions, and their demand has not been met. At the core of the demand were measures designed to remove barriers to holding law enforcement officers accountable for police brutality.
When the Trump administration created the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice to, in part, promote “public respect for the law and law enforcement,” composed almost entirely of law enforcement, LDF successfully filed suit for violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, challenging its legitimacy. (NAACP Legal Defense Fund v. Barr, et al., 2020).
In Louisville, after the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) used militaristic force on peaceful protestors, as they protested against police violence, LDF filed suit to challenge LMPD’s use of force. (Scott v. Louisville/Metro Government, et al., 2020)
In Philadelphia, after the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) used militaristic force on residents in a predominantly Black neighborhood in West Philadelphia, LDF filed suit challenging the PPD’s excessive use of force. (Smith v. City of Philadelphia, et al., 2020).
In New York City, after an NYPD officer attacked a protestor, forcibly removing Mr. Smith’s mask – which he was wearing to protect himself and others from COVID-19 – and pepper-sprayed him in the face, LDF sued the City of New York. (Smith v. City of New York, 2020)
In Alamance County, North Carolina, marchers and prospective voters walking from a church to a nearby polling site—among them young children, elderly individuals, and those with disabilities— were repeatedly pepper-sprayed without warning or provocation by police. Some prospective voters were unable to register to vote by the 3 p.m. deadline and therefore could not vote on Election Day. LDF and co-counsel filed a lawsuit against the City of Graham and Alamance County challenging this unwarranted use of force and intimidation of prospective voters.
LDF reviewed over 100 police contracts and released Community Oversight of Police Union Contracts, a resource for advocates to use to push for reforms of police contracts in their communities. This resource contains an overview of provisions of police union contracts that hinder police accountability and transparency, and suggests alternatives.
When grand jurors reviewing Breonna Taylor’s killing publicly disclosed that they were not presented with charges for the officers who killed Ms. Taylor, LDF reviewed investigative documents and the grand jury transcripts. LDF documented its findings in Justice Denied: A Call for a New Grand Jury Investigation into the Killing of Breonna Taylor (2020), a report that identified the bias and deficiencies in the Kentucky Attorney General presentation of evidence. It called for the empanelment of a new grand jury and recommended systemic reforms.
To support advocates working to transform public safety in Tulsa, Oklahoma, LDF released “We Are Not Lesser: An Urgent Call to End Over-Policing of Black Communities and Transform Public Safety a report that outlines the Tulsa Police Department’s disparate policing practices of Tulsa’s Black communities and recommends reforms to end the over-policing of Black communities in the city.
In response to the ceaseless police violence against Black and Brown people, and additional evidence of race discrimination by law enforcement agencies, LDF called on the Department of Justice to stop disbursing federal funds to law enforcement agencies until the department can ensure that agencies that receive federal funds are not engaging in race discrimination, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. On September 15, 2021, the Department of Justice published a memo announcing that it was conducting a review of its protocols to improve Title VI enforcement among law enforcement agencies.
In Maryland, LDF successfully worked to improve individual and systemic accountability for law enforcement officers through legislative reforms, including the repeal of Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, the creation of a more stringent standard for officers’ uses of force, and a bill allowing public access to officers’ misconduct records. Maryland became the first state in the country repeal its Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, which has long allowed officers to evade accountability.
Published Community Oversight of Police Union Contracts, a toolkit to be used by the public to push for changes to contracts that will increase accountability and transparency.
Partnered with the ACLU of Florida and the Community Justice Project to file a federal lawsuit challenging Florida's anti-protest law designed to chill residents' First Amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly.
Released “We Are Not Lesser” An Urgent Call to End Over-Policing and Transform Public Safety a report outlining the Tulsa Police Department’s disparate policing practices of Tulsa’s Black communities and recommending changes to end the over-policing of Black communities in the city.
Reviewed the grand jury transcripts in the Breonna Taylor case and released Justice Denied: A Call for a New Grand Jury Investigation into the Killing of Breonna Taylor, a report that identified the bias and deficiencies in the Kentucky Attorney General presentation of evidence.
Sent a letter to the Department of Justice calling on the Attorney General to suspend federal funding to local law enforcement agencies until the department can ensure that agencies receiving federal funding are not violating the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.