Here's What Black Lives Matter Activists Want Politicians To Do About Police Violence

The movement unveiled a platform of police reform.

WASHINGTON -- A year after demonstrations in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson launched the Black Lives Matter movement, some of the most prominent voices in the campaign to reform policing in the United States introduced a detailed list of specific proposals that they want to bring about "a world where the police don't kill people."

The comprehensive set of policy demands on the federal and state level introduced by Black Lives Matter activists on Friday, named Campaign Zero, comes after months of discussions with protesters from across the country and was informed by the recommendations of President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. One of the members of Campaign Zero's planning team, Brittany Packnett, was actually a member of the presidential task force as well as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's (D) Ferguson Commission.

Many of Campaign Zero's proposals -- including body cameras, better training, and community oversight -- enjoy broad support from the American public at large and many law enforcement leaders. Just this week, in fact, a top policing organization issued a study suggesting that the way police officers use force needs to "change dramatically," and that many controversial police shootings -- even if legally justified -- could have been avoided.

“Folks are almost not even able to imagine an America where people are not being killed by police," Samuel Sinyangwe, one of the members of the team that put together the proposal, told The Huffington Post. "That is the norm in many other developed countries. It’s about challenging that notion and really showing that through policy change we can get very close, if not achieve, that goal.”

"At this point, there's widespread acknowledgement that policing needs fundamental changes," DeRay Mckesson, who has become one of the most prominent members of the Black Lives Matter movement, said in an interview. "There's an understanding that we need to expand the way we think about safety in communities."

Lauren Dorman

The policy platform aims to reform existing structural issues with policing and put in place new systems that will end police violence against black Americans. The campaign, informed by data on the causes and impact of police violence, draws on years of research from other organizations, including the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice.

The platform also demands that all officers be equipped with body cameras; for hog-ties, nickel-rides and chokeholds to be felony offenses; for officers to undergo consistent racial bias training; police demilitarization and the establishment of a permanent special prosecutor at the federal level who will independently investigate all cases of a police killing or seriously injuring a civilian.

"In this moment, everything is on the table, right? There are no more sacred institutions," Mckesson said. "What we know to be true is that there are structures and systems that were intentionally put in place that were harming people, and the protest community is willing to question all of them."

The project has been in the works for months, he added, and organizers focused on talking "about complex things simply."

Campaign Zero is also calling for laws preventing police departments from imposing minimum quotas for tickets and arrests, for recruiting and retaining more officers of color and the decriminalization of marijuana and drinking alcohol in public, according to The Guardian.

The campaign's website has a list of some of the top presidential candidates on the Republican and Democratic sides and their policy positions in relation to Campaign Zero's proposals. Candidates were listed on the main page of the website mostly based on how they were polling, Sinyangwe said, but Rand Paul was added because he is one of the few candidates who has made criminal justice reform a key part of his agenda.

“With regard to Republicans, I’m not surprised but it is sad," said Sinyangwe. "When I think about police violence, I think that is a conservative issue -- an agent of the government… basically taking people’s lives, intervening in the most extreme way possible. But that’s not how they see it.”

The platform's unveiling comes after several high-profile disruptions of presidential campaign events by Black Lives Matter activists.

Charlie Leight via Getty Images

Last month, Black Lives Matter activists interrupted the Netroots Nation convention, the largest annual meeting of progressives in the U.S. They demanded that Democratic candidates acknowledge that “the most important and urgent issue of our day is structural violence and systemic racism that is oppressing and killing black women, men and children,” Tia Oso, the woman who took the stage during the protest, wrote for Mic.

A simple interruption of a progressive town hall meeting was powerful enough to make systemic racism a conversation on the campaign trail. But talking isn’t enough. Activists want to hear concrete solutions to problems created by systemic racism before endorsing any of the candidates.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic nomination, has introduced a policy platform targeting structural anti-black racism. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has rolled out a framework for criminal justice reform, although it's less explicit in its discussion of racism than Sanders' platform. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, has not yet produced a comprehensive agenda focusing on police violence or mass incarceration -- issues that disproportionately affect black Americans -- even though she is currently the most popular candidate among black voters, with a favorability rate of 68 percent.

Clinton’s policy director and others campaign staffers recently spoke with Campaign Zero planning team members Mckesson and Packnett about police reform, criminal justice and other issues of importance to the black community.

"The campaign is interested in connecting with a broad range of people in the movement," Mckesson said. "As campaigns develop their policy platforms, it's important that many people have opportunities to influence the process -- that this is not politics as usual."

"They made a commitment to reaching out, and I'm hopeful that as many people as possible can be heard and take an active role in shaping potential policies," he went on. "This is an opportunity to redefine how presidential campaigns engage with black communities and prioritize black life."

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