Ferguson Spurs 40 New State Measures 08/02 10:28
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- When a white Ferguson policeman fatally shot a
black 18-year-old nearly a year ago, the St. Louis suburb erupted in violent
protests and the nation took notice. Since then, legislators in almost every
state have proposed changes to the way police interact with the public.
The result: Twenty-four states have passed at least 40 new measures
addressing such things as officer-worn cameras, training about racial bias,
independent investigations when police use force and new limits on the flow of
surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, according to an
analysis by The Associated Press.
Despite all that action, far more proposals have stalled or failed, the AP
review found. And few states have done anything to change their laws on when
police are justified to use deadly force.
National civil rights leaders praised the steps taken by states but said
they aren't enough to solve the racial tensions and economic disparities that
have fueled protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York and elsewhere following
instances in which people died in police custody or shootings.
"What we have right now in the country is an emerging consensus as to the
need to act," said NAACP President Cornell William Brooks. "What we don't have
is a consensus as to how to act, what to act on and how to do this in some kind
of priority order."
The Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old who had
scuffled with Ferguson officer Darren Wilson, came just a few weeks after Eric
Garner --- an unarmed black man accused of illegally selling cigarettes ---
died in a struggle with white New York City officers. Garner's death was
captured by an onlooker's video. Brown's was not, and word quickly spread that
he had been shot while surrendering with his hands up --- an assertion
uncorroborated by state and federal investigations.
Some Ferguson protesters burned stores and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails
at heavily armored police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse
crowds --- all under the lens of live, national media coverage. The protests
again turned violent when a Missouri grand jury decided not to charge Wilson.
And similar riots broke out in Baltimore in April following the funeral of
Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after being injured in police
The AP analysis of legislation passed in all 50 states found the greatest
interest in officer cameras that can capture what transpires between police and
civilians. Sixteen states passed body-camera measures this year, ranging from
resolutions merely creating study panels to state grants subsidizing cameras
and new laws on how they can be used. Numerous cities from coast-to-coast,
including Ferguson, also began using the cameras without waiting for
"Right now, all law enforcement has an image problem," said California
Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat from Los Angeles whose budget
subcommittee allotted $1 million for a pilot project outfitting some Highway
Patrol troopers with cameras. "They've got to show that they can police their
Just three states --- Colorado, Connecticut and Illinois --- have passed
comprehensive packages of legislation encouraging body cameras, boosting police
training on such things as racial biases and requiring independent
investigations when police shoot people. Colorado and Connecticut also are
among several states that bolstered citizen rights to take videos of police.
Police groups have been urging lawmakers to proceed with caution when
altering laws on the way they do their jobs. They stress that officers involved
in shootings deserve fair investigations and that surplus military equipment
typically is used by police for defensive purposes. Any Ferguson-inspired
changes should focus on training police commanders to make better decisions on
when and how to use their officers and equipment, said Jim Pasco, executive
director of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Police are frustrated by the tone of the national debate, he said.
"While we're trying to save lives, politicians are trying to save their
jobs," he said.
Police unions still hold considerable sway in some states, including in
Missouri, where lawmakers filed about 65 bills stemming from the events in
Ferguson. Legislators passed just one of them --- a measure limiting municipal
court fines and traffic tickets in response to complaints about aggressive law
enforcement designed to generate revenue. Most notably, Missouri made no change
to its law on when police can use deadly force, even though it apparently
doesn't comply with a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring deadly force
against unarmed fleeing suspects who pose no serious danger.
"As a state, we have not done much," said Missouri state Sen. Maria
Chappelle-Nadal, who represents Ferguson and was among the protesters who were
tear-gassed by police. "We have a bunch of chumps who are elected right now who
are more comfortable keeping the status quo."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has rallied with relatives of Brown and Garner,
described Missouri's response as "disappointing" and indicative of an
"institutional denial" of the need for change.
But Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says the "landmark" municipal courts bill is an
"important step." A commission he created has proposed 148 steps to improve
police and court policies, racial and economic equality and local schools.
Other governors have acted without waiting for legislators. After a rookie
Cleveland patrolman fatally shot a 12-year-old boy who was holding a pellet gun
in November, Ohio Gov. John Kasich created a panel to develop the state's
first-ever standards for police use of deadly force. And New York Gov. Andrew
Cuomo signed an executive order directing appointment of special prosecutors to
investigate police killings of unarmed civilians.
In South Carolina, the Ferguson-inspired bills didn't pick up steam until
the issue hit closer to home, when a bystander's cellphone video showed a white
North Charleston officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man in the back in
April. Two months later, Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill allowing state aid for
police agencies to buy body cameras.
Advocates for police accountability pushed hard in Maryland this legislative
session with limited success, winning passage of bills covering body camera
policies and fatal incident reporting. Gray's death occurred shortly after the
session ended. Now Maryland lawmakers have formed a panel to further examine
public safety and police practices, and civil rights activists there are urging
lawmakers to do more.
Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU's criminal law reform project, said
states can't expect to make real progress by merely equipping officers with
cameras or providing more training. He said states must also provide better
education, employment and housing opportunities for residents.
"There's been a tremendous amount done over the past year," Edwards said,
"but there is a massive amount of work that is left to do going forward."