US officials will be pushed into action by the recent Black Lives Matter protests, and a “whole host of police reforms” are already being worked on, a former police officer and prohibition advocate says.
Lieutenant Diane Goldstein is a retired 21-year veteran of the Redondo Beach Police Department in California and is the board chair of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a non-profit of law enforcement officials advocating for criminal justice and drug policy reforms.
She told Sunday Morning the recent deaths of black men Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, among others, highlighted the structural racism that is rife in both the US policing and criminal justice systems.
There had been an enormous outcry in earlier Black Lives Matters protests, but the most recent one – in response to the killing of Floyd – felt different, Goldstein said.
“I mean these protests are out of hand, and because we have audio, video, because we have both street-level reporting by citizens as well as by the media, our congress and our local and state-elected officials are going to be pushed into action.
“I know for a fact that right now there is legislation working on the national level on a whole host of police reforms and they’re being quickly done.”
Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after being arrested outside a shop.
Video footage showed a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes, while Floyd repeatedly said “I can’t breathe”.
Chauvin has been dismissed and charged with murder and three other officers who were on the scene have also been sacked and charged with aiding and abetting.
Goldstein said during her police career she witnessed her colleagues policing people differently depending on their colour.
There were disparities in how the criminal justice system and “white America” viewed normal, innocent legal behaviours by black people compared to that of white people, she said.
Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in February when he was chased down by two cars, one which struck him, before being shot and killed.
“He ended up being executed in what I can only describe as a modern-day lynching by three individuals who racially profiled him,” Goldstein said.
“White people who live in communities that they feel that people of colour should not be in are calling cops on them for no reason and in many ways are setting up these confrontations, so we in law enforcement need to do a better job of screening out those types of complaints.”
Structural racism within police and a lack of economic resources among black communities “compound on and pervade the entire criminal justice system,” Goldstein said.
“We police people differently in communities of colour than we do in white communities.”
There had, however, been some improvement in recent years, and the recent protests in response to Floyd’s death will result in change, she said.
“I think it’s going to be slow and incremental, but I think you’re going to see, right away, some reimagining of not just policing but the criminal justice system.
“I’m seeing a push both on the conservative and the liberal political spectrum for calls for reform…there is a strong bipartisan push that recognises that mass incarceration, that the over criminalisation of society has eroded American civil liberties and has not done the country any good.
“I’m always the optimist. I’m hopeful, but we’ll see.”