CHENEY ORR / AFP
Demonstration after the death of Tire Nichols, January 28 in Atlanta, United States.
UNITED STATES – This is a new story of police violence in the United States. On January 7, Tire Nichols was arrested and beaten by five members of the Memphis police. He died in hospital three days later. The video of his arrest caused shock waves, once again. Two and a half years after the death of George Floyd, which set the whole country ablaze, has nothing changed?
“No, nothing has changed”notes Charlotte Recoquillon, associate researcher at the French Institute of Geopolitics and specialist in the United States, interviewed by the HuffPost. The evidence, she points out, “in 2022, there was a record number of people killed by the police, this is the highest figure for ten years”. According to the count of the NGO Mapping Police Violence, 1,192 people died after police violence last year.
This figure seems insane compared to France, where it has fluctuated between 10 and 20 in recent years. Brought back to the population, the comparison remains edifying. “It shows that it is a routine phenomenon in the United States. This is very worrying, but not surprising, because American society has a very high homicide rate. However, we see that there is a correlation between the homicide rate and the police homicide rate.explains François Bonnet, research director at the CNRS – Pacte.
Reforms are limited to the federal level
The beating of Tire Nichols is all the more shocking since there were many promises after the death of George Floyd in May 2020. At the federal level, a bill entitled “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” wanted to limit the protections whose benefit police in investigations, and establish a federal registry of officers targeted by complaints. The text ran up against Republican opposition in the Senate and was never adopted.
Faced with this legislative failure, Joe Biden signed a decree in May 2022. It prohibits the choke key, requires the wearing of body cameras, and creates a register to list all the police officers targeted by reports or disciplinary procedures. However, this text has limited effects since it only applies to federal agents.
In fact, because of the very fragmented system in the United States, it is the 18,000 local police departments that are responsible for maintaining order. “Everyone is free to recruit, pay, manage their deployments, their workforce, list Charlotte Recoquillon. They have a lot of discretionary power and a lot of autonomy. »
Memphis City Police “very violent” underlines François Bonnet, is among those who have implemented reforms after 2020 in a project called “Reimagining policing in Memphis”. Among the measures taken: the reduction in the use of force, the ban on entering a home without warning or the obligation to intervene if a police officer witnesses violence perpetrated by a colleague. Insufficient, according to the drama that took place on January 7.
We need a “structural change”
These decisions are useless, because they do not attack the heart of the problem also assures Charlotte Recoquillon. “We need structural changes. Increase the workforce, give more cameras: we have seen, it does not work. Why ? Because racist prejudices continue to exist, impunity is still the rule except in the case of Derek Chauvin [condamné à 22 ans de prison pour la mort de George Floyd]… In fact, the problem is not with the police themselves. »
She explains: “The police enforce laws that penalize and punish small infractions, incivilities, in the name of the quality of life in a structurally racist society. Sleeping on a bench or hanging out in a group leads to suspicion, justifies identity checks, arrests, which makes the escalation stronger. » And more frequent skids. “The problems lie upstream at the legislative and political level, and downstream with the judicial system”, she analyzes.
Despite everything, the researcher has her own idea for stopping this spiral of violence: “Drastically cut the staff and resources of the police to redirect them to social services, health services, or even education programs. » This is what activists against police violence are demanding.
François Bonnet, from the CNRS, points to a limit to this claim. “If we think roughly, the problem is how much it costs. Certainly, prevention programs have an impact. Except that the police have a much greater effect for a lower cost,” he believes. For him, “The problem comes from the number of homicides in society with police officers who fear for their lives, which leads to even more violence. Yes, you should have a low crime rate, like in Norway or Denmark. But how to do it ? »
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