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In June 2020, President Obama and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBK Alliance) challenged mayors and city leaders to amplify their communities’ calls for policing reform and accountability. More than 300 local jurisdictions have taken the Reimagining Policing Pledge to review and reform use-of-force policies and combat systemic racism within law enforcement. This report documents the pledge’s inspiration, shares highlights of the participating cities’ progress, and offers next steps for building on the momentum of the pledge.
Young people have been a cornerstone for change in fighting for freedom under the oppressive American system...I believe that the fire in our youth will unequivocally burn as long as there is injustice and barriers to further the pursuit of life...Over the summer, I watched as young people rallied, and many individuals in the crowd did not look like me. They did not share my story but they enlisted themselves to fight for my freedom, to fight for universal freedom.”
—Playon Patrick, Ohio State University student & MBK youth leader for the City of Columbus
The My Brother’s Keeper Alliance
The MBK Alliance is built on telling the truth about how widespread social inequities are byproducts of the racism that is present across our institutions. President Obama established My Brother’s Keeper in 2014 to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color. The initiative was a response to the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his murderer. A core belief of the MBK Alliance is that all children should be safe from violence. We’ve known since the launch of the MBK Alliance that we cannot discuss keeping our youth safe from violent crime if we do not discuss police violence and the broken relationship between the criminal justice system and communities of color.
Addressing broken relationships and systemic racism similarly drove the Task Force on 21st Century Policing which President Obama formed in December of 2014. Months before, in August of 2014, a police officer in Ferguson, MO shot and killed Michael Brown. Michael Brown’s death further opened the wound of racism and abuse in the criminal justice system. President Obama charged the task force with identifying concrete steps to change policing practices, rebuild the legitimacy of policing, and meaningfully address public safety concerns. As the task force did its work and published its findings, the MBK Alliance was also carrying a mantle to protect and serve young people of color. In 2017, the Alliance became a program of the Obama Foundation, and in 2020, launched the Reimagining Policing Pledge, building on years of lessons of reducing violence, providing second chances, and fostering trust between youth and law enforcement.
The Reimagining Policing Pledge
The Reimagining Policing Pledge, and this report, center the Black experience with public safety. The cities that made this pledge are creating spaces where more of the truth about Black communities’ well-being can be heard and considered. This report is also a resource for those looking for action steps for reimagining policing in their community. We hope that you will take the pledge and use your voice to call for accountability and action from your local leaders.
Anguish and Action: The Backdrop of 2020
2020 was a year that challenged and disturbed many people’s assumptions about American institutions. The COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the country in the same year that also saw law enforcement officers shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people, a statistic that had been repeated for each of the previous four years. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Tyalor, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others, challenge the country in another way: they are too familiar. To add to the challenge, officials who were sworn to protect, serve, and provide safety were responsible for their deaths.
There are hundreds of thousands of police officers and law enforcement agents in the United States, spread across as many as 17,000 agencies. These agencies are the overburdened center of the nation’s public safety infrastructure. Law enforcement agents are relied on to respond to emergencies, protect and defend public spaces, enforce the criminal code, address homelessness, supervise parking and transportation, serve evictions, support disaster response, provide protection, address substance use, enforce school discipline, and more.
Turning anguish into action means confronting and inspecting these hard truths. We know that too many interactions between law enforcement and the public result in harm. We also know that law enforcement has too large of a footprint in public safety and in the daily lives of Black people in otherwise underserved communities. We believe there is an opportunity for city leaders to join with community members in this moment to forever reshape how law enforcement shows up and takes action to make our communities safer.
Sullivan, J., Weber, L., Tate, J., & Jenkins, J. (2019, February 12). Four years in a row, police nationwide fatally shoot nearly 1,000 people. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/four-years-in-a-row-police-nationwide-fatally-shoot-nearly-1000-people/2019/02/07/0cb3b098-020f-11e9-9122-82e98f91ee6f_story.html
Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2016. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/nsleed.pdf
It's imperative that governments at the federal, state, and local levels come up with concrete solutions for the problems we have been dealing with for far too long. Just because we’ve done it one way forever doesn’t mean we need to continue to do it a certain way in the future. And because young people changed the trajectory of the debate this summer, we're seeing meaningful change across the country around reimagining public safety. Now is the time to stay committed and vigilant in our journey toward justice.”
——Eric Holder Jr., Former Attorney General