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Atlanta shooting underscores need for police reforms

Residents of Atlanta, and thousands of others around the country and the world, are taking part in daily demonstrations to push for police reforms since the death of George Floyd nearly three weeks ago. But what should that mean and how can it be initiated? Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, and former mayor of New Orleans, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Joining me now is President and CEO of the National Urban League, and former mayor of New Orleans, Marc Morial.

    Marc, we're just a couple of weeks after George Floyd, after Atlanta saw the protest, the response. And here we are, another use of deadly force video that shows up. What goes through your mind?

  • Marc Morial:

    You know, a lot of pain, a lot of hurt, a lot of how can this happen again? It's my immediate response.

    But second to that, it underscores why we need a reimagination, a restructuring and a new accountability system for American policing. American policing is, for the most part, broken. People can pick the word they want, but we need changes at the national level and we need new initiatives and new ways of doing business at the local level.

    This is not where one sweeping federal bill will fix this problem, but a sweeping federal bill is essential to address many of the accountability challenges. And that's why the Justice and Policing Act is something we strongly support introduced this past week in the Congress.

    And I'm not I don't have an appetite for a watered down version. I don't have an appetite for a symbolic bill. I think we've got to hear the pain, the cries and the determination of the American people from all walks of life, all races and backgrounds who are on the streets saying black lives matter.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This is certainly not in the same vein as George Floyd. There are different circumstances which are going to lead a lot of people to say, hey, you know what?

    I saw the Wendy's parking lot surveillance footage and this gentleman turned around and he pointed a Taser. This is different. The police officer felt that their life was threatened, that they should have been able to protect themselves.

  • Marc Morial:

    Yeah. Police officers are trained and taught that the Taser is a non-lethal weapon. And the officers had searched the gentlemen at when he when he got out of the car to determine because they asked him, are you armed? And they determined that he was not armed. So for him to turn around and shoot a Taser at the officers did not constitute a threat to the officer's life or a threat to another officer's life.

    Perhaps the officer was amped up because this man had taken the taser away from him and began to flee. So, yeah, officers make split second decisions, but at no instance was anyone's life threatened. And force is only only, I think, necessary if the officer's life is truly threatened. Or, number two, if the life of a citizen or someone else is threatened.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What could they have done differently?

  • Marc Morial:

    If we are going to talk about de-escalation? Then we have to rethink, and this is what's important, how we handle various types of incidents, whether it's with homelessness, whether it's people on the street who may have mental issues. If those are appropriate things for the police to respond to, police have been asked to do things far beyond the traditional world of public safety and policing and the reimagined nation movement or the imagination restructuring movement.

    I think rightfully has to think about some of these classes of offenses differently. Some of them are not truly criminal offenses. And so we've got to rethink this. And they could have done that and he could have not used his gun.

    Look, how far was that gentleman going to run? And officers are trained to make these split second decisions. And it is it is difficult. But here we have another unarmed black man armed with a Taser.

    But he didn't have a weapon.

    Unarmed black man dead in the middle of in the middle of a movement, which is all about police brutality and the treatment of mainly African-American men and other men of color by police across the nation.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And we've also seen in the last couple of weeks is a closing of the ranks by different police agencies in Buffalo, for example, you had all the members of the emergency response team resign from that unit, but not from the police department in solidarity with two individuals who were reprimanded for pushing down an old man. In Florida you had another case recently of members resigning from the SWAT team because they feel their actions are now being politicized and they don't feel like they can do their jobs as with the force that might be necessary if, myself included, if we're gonna have these conversations looking over their shoulder on Sunday morning.

  • Marc Morial:

    It is the right of the public and the people to look over the shoulders of public officials and public servants. It is. No one should be immune from it. Not the police officer. Not the firefighter. Not the tax collector.

    I don't think we should offer to police officers some sort of exalted position in American life where they have super duper protections, super insulation's. And that's been part of the culture. Those officers, if they do not have confidence, should not have resigned from the SWAT team or resigned from the unit. They should resign from the force. If officers can't take this trip, if they can't move in the direction that I believe American policing is going to move, then I think they should resign and find something else to go do.

    We've got to think about the hiring process. We've got to think about the training process. And we've got to think about the scope and the charge of policing and public safety. And I think to what's implicit in this and and I strongly support the investments we're willing to make in youth and social services in schools. A response to every single problem can't be let's put more police in the neighborhood.

    I believe you have to have smart policing, progressive policing, community policing strategy around public safety, but includes so many other things. And that's the debate, I think, in the discussion that we need to have in the United States today.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know, one of the central tenets to me is regardless of how much money you pour into police retraining, implicit bias training, de-escalation training and so forth, how do you switch a culture that values and sometimes rightfully loyalty?

    They say, hey, I need to know that you have my back. That if we go into a dangerous situation, I can count on you.

    And that ends up creating a scenario where good police are standing by when something bad happens because they feel like if I turn on my brother or sister now, they might not be there for me when I really need them.

  • Marc Morial:

    Even in that instance, there's a place where you have to draw a line. And the line involves not lying, not covering up, not looking the other way when you know, a partner of yours or coworker has done something, that's obviously wrong. Corruption means that wrongdoing is unchecked. That wrongdoing becomes the culture.

    So people should understand that there are lines to be drawn in every single institution. We have to rethink and we have to reform and we have to restructure. And look, I'm confident that we can get something that protects the public safety, respects citizens and creates new confidence. But these reforms are not going to be able operate around the edges, because it's central to what we need in American communities today.

    And look, I think that police have been asked to do too many things well. We need to talk to communities and say what type of situations should be handled by maybe another unit or another department or another instrument or instrumentality of government. And I think those are the kind of conversations that communities have at that in a reimagined issue.

    Look, I don't think people should under estimate the power of this movement that we see manifested in the streets, it's touched the boardrooms of America. It's touched the legislative bodies of America. And, yeah, there's probably a segment of the American population which is kicking and screaming and doesn't support it. But my sense is that this is a movement unlike any I've seen in in my in my adult life, to undo racism, to restructure the society.

    It's not a black movement. It's not a white movement. It's not a Latino movement. It's not an Asian movement. It's not a it's not a movement of young versus old. It's being propelled by the young. But it is a movement against racism and a movement against division and intolerance in this country.

    And so we have a chance in the short run. I want to see Congress pass the justice and policing act. I got testified before the House Judiciary Committee. It's the kind of reform measure congress should pass. It's not going to fix or do all the things we discussed. But Congress has to put its stamp, its stamp on this issue by saying we realize we need to take a giant leap forward when it comes to American policing, in terms of creating accountabilities, responsibilities and systems that will assist local communities in doing what they need to do.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Marc Morial of the Urban League, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Marc Morial:

    Thanks for having me.

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