The Failure of Police Reform

Micah Herskind and Tiffany Roberts | First published at New York Magazine | 1/31/22

Two weeks after uprisings sparked by the murder of George Floyd left Atlanta littered with ashes, protesters flooded the city’s streets once more. The police had killed again, and this time the victim was an Atlantan: 27-year-old father and music lover Rayshard Brooks, shot in the back twice by Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe. The Wendy’s where Rolfe killed Brooks the day before went up in flames, lighting up the night as protesters chanted and mourned, decrying a system that disproportionately takes the lives of Black people as a matter of course.

“You are disgracing our city,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had declared when the protests broke out two weeks earlier. Bottoms’s admonishment was celebrated by pundits and politicians, winning her a national profile. “If you care about this city, then go home,” she urged.

But protesters filled the streets precisely because they cared so deeply. Six years after the first round of Black Lives Matter uprisings, it felt to many that the system had not fundamentally shifted. The 2020 protests popularized the demand to defund the police and invest instead in community-based safety and well-being — a demand that many organizers in Atlanta had been working to make reality for the previous two decades.

Despite those efforts, the city’s leadership responded to the 2020 uprisings with a mix of co-option, half-measures, and brutal police repression — a pattern the city has long practiced. Indeed, the reaction to Rayshard Brooks’s killing was in some ways predictable — the result of decades of sweeping police violence under the rug and disregarding organizers’ demands.

Read the rest of the piece at New York Magazine.


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