LOS ANGELES – Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), issued the following statement in response to the current national crisis sparked by the murder of George Floyd, and the need for aggressive police reform measures to address the ongoing problem of police violence that disproportionately affects and kills Black Americans:
“Demonstrations nationwide in response to one of the latest tragic incidents of undue police violence, in Minneapolis, demand consistent and committed leadership to accomplish the critical and significant policy changes necessary to our future as a nation. We must immediately undertake the steps necessary to adopt and implement changes that must affect all aspects of our society. As one of the nation’s longest-standing legal civil rights organizations, MALDEF recognizes the daunting, but essential, effort before our nation, and MALDEF commits to seeking change that reflects critical principles.
“First, deep structural reform is necessary to address the problem of police bias and undue police violence in this country. The prosecution of the officer who murdered George Floyd is not enough. Training police officers on racial bias, including implicit and subconscious bias, while absolutely necessary, is not sufficient. We must change how the legal system addresses police violence in the future. This includes not just addressing the appalling misuse of prosecutorial discretion, but, more important, changing the standards applied in the legal system to adjudicate police use of force. Those standards must reflect greater respect for the rights of all persons to be free from excessive use of force. We must require police officers to respect these new standards and to place a higher priority on de-escalation and non-lethal force. Structural reform also requires a reassessment of our police officer selection processes to ensure that those with demonstrated racial bias are not hired, and conversely to achieve the hiring of more officers who come from the communities where police work. Finally, we must demand leadership at all levels that refuses to pander to — and ultimately to disrespect — police officers by suggesting that they have any right to ignore due process and to inflict any kind of punishment on the accused.
“Second, we must respect and facilitate the leadership of the Black /African American community in the police reform effort. As the Latino community would expect with regards to issues that most affect our community, we must recognize that the Black / African American community has borne most the devastating effects of our national failure to address police bias and violence effectively. This is not to ignore the undeniable fact that numerous Latinos, including Afro-Latinos, have also been subject to police bias, disrespect, and unlawful violence, but we must acknowledge and support the appropriate leadership role of the Black / African American community as we work together to accomplish the necessary structural reform of policing in this country.
“Third, we must recognize that the demonstrations and the damage inflicted on numerous businesses across the country reflect not only righteous anger about the nation’s continuing refusal to address police bias and violence seriously, but also indignation and economic anxiety created by the inequity of opportunity and result in our economy. Growing inequality between the wealthiest and the rest of us is a significant threat to our nation. Continuing bias and disparity in economic opportunity have real impacts on our ability to thrive. We must seriously and assiduously undertake deep and effective reforms to address these issues. We can no longer accept leadership that concentrates the benefits of tax decreases on the rich, while impoverishing the many programs — education most prominently – that have provided economic opportunity to so many in our nation’s history.
“Finally, we must respect the right of all persons to demonstrate and to protest. We cannot tolerate leaders who implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, manifest support for certain far-right causes over others. Threats of military action have no place in respecting the First Amendment.
“Today, several states across the nation are conducting elections. This presents an important reminder that, in a democracy, we need not accept an ongoing absence of effective leadership that respects and champions everyone living in our nation. Silence, implicit contempt, and intentional division are not leadership. We can demand much more. Every eligible voter must register and vote as a critical step toward the deep reforms that our nation currently requires.”