After a passage in the House, the Minnesota state Senate has approved a fairly broad police reform bill. Some of the more significant provisions headed to the Governor's desk include a limitation on police action regarding petty traffic stops, a prohibition of the employment of officers affiliated with or supportive of white supremacist organizations, a restriction of no-knock warrants to severe crime cases such as murder, terrorism, and human trafficking, and a requirement to direct 911 calls primarily concerning mental health to specialized response teams.
In theory, these provisions mean that it will be much harder for a broken tail-light to turn into an arrest or worse, that police officers with obvious Proud Boys tattoos will be fired, that officers will not be able to barge into a house without due notice in search of several grams of drugs, and that individuals in mental crises will receive trained and specialized help rather than armed officers accustomed to dealing with erratic individuals as suspects rather than victims.
What this means in practice, however, is likely to be far more limited. As long as police unions are strong within departments and qualified immunity remains in place, no real accountability structure will exist to hold officers to these new standards and requirements. Qualified immunity shields officers and other municipal employees from prosecution, arguably because it could become too expensive for a city to go to court as frequently as individuals in its employ might be sued by constituents.
Ideally one would expect police chiefs or district attorneys to stand against crooked or abusive cops, but police unions can muster a stonewall against either of these actors and make their job impossible. Police chiefs can’t feasibly fire a whole department of uncooperative officers (and likely wouldn’t anyways), and district attorneys can’t do their jobs without police reports and other such cooperation which can be withheld.
The problem of police abuse in America is so insidious because if it cannot be addressed at its root—the true lack of accountability for some of the most powerful people in our communities—it stands as a rebuke and violation of the central tenets of our democratic society. The structure of our government, with separate powers and checks and balances, is a testament to the American belief that a democracy cannot function if the powerful are not prevented from abusing their power.
Until this principle comes to bear not just on the President and Congress but on those who are most empowered to uphold the law—so long as they see fit—dissatisfaction, anger, and agitation will continue to grow in our country, undermining faith in the democratic process and in the principles of this country which are so flagrantly ignored.