Americans' minds have changed on role of police: Expert

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Americans on both sides of the aisle are now worried about police violence and their ability to act with impunity, Dan Mahafee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, told Al Arabiya.

Videos that have emerged in past years of primarily black men dying at the hands of police have “changed the opinion of how police are trained, how police respond or deescalate crises,” he said.

The latest video to surface was the killing of George Floyd, an African American, as a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Police in the US kill an average of 1,000 people each year, and black Americans are killed at higher rates than their white counterparts.

Read more: Ending police brutality in the US: Policy proposals for better policing

“And [there are] questions about why the police departments have equipment that looks like it would be more used by the military in Iraq or Afghanistan rather than on American streets,” Mahafee continued.

Further, Americans are concerned about whether police are increasing tensions in their community or lowering them.

“Many military members would actually tell you now they're taught far more deescalation, and have far more rules about how they use force the most police departments here in the United States,” Mahafee said. “So [this] raise[s] questions about how security can be accomplished through a far more technological and communal approach rather than old paradigms from the 20th century.”

As Americans across the country took to the streets to protest police brutality and systemic racism, videos of police officers targeting peaceful protesters emerged. While some looting did occur, protests were relatively peaceful.

“But many Americans right now are skeptical of the police, the budgets they have, and finally at a time when we're all facing economic difficulties because of the coronavirus [pandemic].”

Activists have called for police departments to be defunded or overhauled. US President Donald Trump has tried to peg this call on Democrats, Mahafee said.

Read more: Systemic discrimination, not Trump, is the problem: Analyst on George Floyd protests

Calls to defund police departments include shifting funding from police budgets into community programs that would help address the core problems in cities, such as education. Mahafee said that some reform measures will ultimately come through state and local channels because that is where policing is managed.

“We also see that Republican senators are moving ahead of the president in many ways, trying to actually get some sort of federal legislation quickly. Because unlike the president, they see the widespread disappointment in police and the widespread anger about how police need to be reformed,” he said.

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