The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties stands in solidarity with our Black community and many others who condemn police brutality and demand police accountability and justice. We the People deserve fair policing. The time is now to come together to do the difficult work to ensure that We the People truly means all of us.

The events of the past week have been both horrifying and deeply hurtful, especially for people in the Black community for whom the killing of George Floyd by police in full view of the public reinforces their own lived experience that Black lives are perpetually in peril.

Understandably, people are taking to the streets to express their anguish and outrage and to demand justice. But justice is elusive and often denied to victims of police abuse of power. More corrosive than COVID-19, systemic racism is another lethal pandemic plaguing our nation, as proven by the indelible images of a handcuffed African American man, face down in the street, begging for his life from a white police officer who instead kept a knee on his neck until he was dead.

As protests and other gatherings occur, it is important that our law enforcement agencies uphold people’s First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and to speak their truth. In coming together, people can find both solace in their shared trauma and collective purpose to question unjust police policy and practice, express dissent and advocate for positive change. The ACLU encourages people to know their rights while demanding justice for George Floyd and to know the risks.

We strongly urge law enforcement to exercise compassion and restraint in protecting people’s constitutional rights and not to overreact to public protest with unnecessary, militarized policing. Just as officers demonstrated restraint when armed white protesters overran Michigan’s state capitol last month, they must act with restraint in response to demonstrations against the killing of Black people.

We call on cities not to impose blanket curfews. Universal curfews are the wrong way to respond to disruptions in otherwise peaceful protests. Curfews that bar all presence in public are far broader than necessary and unjustifiably prohibit essential activities such as traveling to and from work, seeking emergency medical care and fulfilling other caregiving responsibilities.

Further, by making presence on public streets anywhere in a city unlawful, police are afforded too much discretion over whom to interrogate or arrest. This can lead to selective and biased enforcement, especially against Black people and other people of color; and it can invite harassment of people who are unhoused. Blanket curfews also undermine transparency and accountability by preventing the press from covering law enforcement’s response to public events.

We urge police officers to use force only as a last resort. The systemic over-policing of and use of unnecessary force against people of color is part of our nation’s legacy of enslavement and legal oppression of African Americans. It is engrained in law enforcement culture, as was graphically confirmed in Minnesota last Monday and in the apparently casual cruelty meted out at the Grossmont Trolley Station two days later.

Poet Claudia Rankine in her essay, The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning, writes: “Anti-black racism is in the culture. It’s in our laws, in our advertisements, in our friendships, in our segregated cities, in our schools, in our Congress, in our scientific experiments, in our language, on the Internet, in our bodies no matter our race, in our communities, and perhaps most devastatingly, in our justice system.”

Our nation is at a transformational moment. We call on our elected lawmakers and law enforcement officers to rise to meet this moment with meaningful action and change. They must commit themselves to working with and within impacted communities to address the unjust disparities in our society. And we must hold them accountable with our voices and our vote. We the People must be transformational too. We must be visible, vocal and united in the struggle to dismantle systems that devalue Black lives. “I can’t breathe” – the dying words of George Floyd and Eric Garner before him – should make us all catch our breath. Here are some ideas for immediate actions that We the People can take to end biased policing and bring about real social progress:

  • Support the California C.R.I.S.E.S. Act (AB 2054). Take action to establish a statewide pilot program to promote community-based responses to local emergency situations including situations involving people experiencing public health and mental health crises, homelessness, intimate partner violence and/or substance use. Passing AB 2054 will help prevent significant, unnecessary human costs associated with police officers acting as first responders.
  • Hold law enforcement accountable to end biased policing and excessive use of force in California. The landmark California Act to Save Lives (AB 392), Racial and Identity Profiling Act (AB 953) and California Public Records Act (SB 1421) are all state laws.
  • Support a local bail fund. Founders of the DeDe McClure Memorial Community are committed to educating and empowering people to advocate against the cash bail system and supporting people who have been victimized by it. Monies raised will be “used as support for imprisoned organizers and activists, and will help them to get free to continue their critical work.”
  • Sign up with the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties to get information on our local efforts to advance police accountability and transparency.
  • Remember. We honor their lives when we say their names:

Rekia Boyd

John Crawford III

Sandra Bland

Eleanor Bumpurs

LaTanya Haggerty

Michael Brown

Eric Garner

Alfred Olango

Tony McDade

Breonna Taylor

Ahmaud Arbery

George Floyd  

….and all other lives lost to police violence and racist vigilantism.