Footage of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until his death, shocked the nation and led to protests around the world calling for an end to police brutality.[1] Unfortunately, for the Black community in Minneapolis, experiencing or witnessing police use force is disturbingly common.[2] In Minneapolis, Black people make up just twenty percent of the population and nine percent of the police force, but fifty-eight percent of those who have been subject to police use of force, which includes “kicks, neck holds, punches, shoves, takedowns, Mace, [and] Tasers.”[3] In contrast, white people make up about sixty percent of the population but comprised just twenty-four percent of those who have been subject to police use of force.[4] In the past five years, Minneapolis police “used force against [B]lack people at a rate at least seven times that of white people.”[5]

The data from Minneapolis is but a microcosm of what has been going on across the country. According to a study done by the Department of Justice, a Black driver is about “31 percent more likely to be pulled over than [a white driver]. . .more than twice as likely to be subject to police searches as white drivers . . . and [ ] nearly twice as likely to not be given any reason for the traffic stop.”[6] In fact, “[B]lack drivers were less likely to be stopped after sunset, when a ‘veil of darkness’ masks one’s race, suggesting bias in stop decisions.”[7]

From a local standpoint, “70 percent of people stopped by D.C. police in a [ ] one-month period were [B]lack,” despite the fact that African Americans make up less than half the population as of July 2018, according to a fourteen-page report released in 2019, “which provide[d] data on 11,000 stops” performed by the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”).[8] African Americans “were 86 percent of. . .  ‘non-ticket stops,'” which are defined as “‘stops that involved an arrest, search’ or police action other than traffic enforcement.”[9] By comparison, “[t]he report said 15 percent of people in all stops, and 7 percent of those involved in non-ticket stops, were white.”[10] Interestingly, “authorities said the disparity does not necessarily indicate racial bias in local law enforcement.”[11] Police Chief Peter Newsham said “it’s too early to be upset. . . [t]his report is a snapshot of what our stops do look like for a four-week period. But we don’t know what they should look like” and “that he wants to retain outside experts to further analyze the demographics of police stops.”[12]

This essay sheds light on the national policing crisis by focusing on D.C., where there has been a policing crisis for a very long time. Specifically, this essay reflects research that I did as a member of the D.C. Justice Lab’s “Suppress Racism” team created by GW Law professor Patrice Sulton to address policing issues in the community. It will address the current crisis in the District followed by specific ideas for reform.

In numerous police departments in the United States, and in the MPD specifically, police union contracts permitting police officers to bargain collectively over the terms of their employment act as impediments to officer accountability.[13] In D.C., provisions of the MPD’s police union contracts include, but are not limited to, “delay[ing] officer interrogations . . . after suspected misconduct,”[14] limiting consideration of disciplinary history by “mandat[ing] the removal of disciplinary records from personnel files over time,”[15] “provid[ing] access to [incriminating] evidence” to officers before questioning, “limit[ing the] length of investigation or establish[ing] a statute of limitations,” “limit[ing] civilian oversight,” and “provid[ing] for arbitration” opportunities instead of litigation.[16] These provisions can all serve to protect racially biased officers from being held accountable.

There are many ways to bring about positive reform in D.C. policing. The most tangible method of change is legislation. In D.C., the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results law, or the “NEAR Act,” prompted the collection of data on police stops.[17] This legislation greatly improved “the District’s approach to fighting crime by seeking to address the [main] causes of violence.”[18] It also “established a city agency, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, to [manage] programs related to the effort.”[19] And most importantly, the law mandates that police collect data “when officers stop and frisk people or conduct stops, including the person’s race, ethnicity and gender, and duration of the stop.”[20]

In addition, change is needed in both the procedural and substantive formations of police union contracts. Obviously, officers need procedural safeguards during disciplinary investigations because not all accused officers are guilty. However, the amount of data shown above suggests that officers may be receiving too much protection. One way to amend this process could be “mak[ing] collective bargaining sessions over police disciplinary procedures open to the public.”[21] Another way could be “forcing municipalities and police unions to negotiate the content of disciplinary procedures as a standalone issue,” rather than encouraging trade-offs between amount of wrongdoing and vacation time, for example.[22]

There is no better time to enact policies that target racial injustice in D.C. policing. There should not be any more breaking news headlines of a Black man, woman, or child who was shot by officers simply scared of or biased against people different from them. My hope is that this essay will be one trickle in the waterfall of narratives regarding racial injustice in our nation’s past and present, so that the future can really be considered “post-racial.”

[1] Richard A. Oppel Jr. & Lazaro Gamio, Minneapolis Police Use Force Against Black People at 7 Times the Rate of Whites, N.Y. TIMES (June 3, 2020),

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Christopher Ingraham, You Really Can Get Pulled Over For Driving While Black, Federal Statistics Show, WASH. POST (Sept. 9, 2014),

[7] Emma Pierson et al., A Large-Scale Analysis of Racial Disparities in Police Stops Across the United States, 4 NATURE HUM. BEHAV. 736, 736 (2020),

[8] Paul Duggan, A Disproportionate Number of D.C. Police Stops Involved African Americans, WASH. POST (Sept. 9, 2019),

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] See Stephen Rushin, Police Union Contracts, 66 DUKE L. J. 1191, 1195–99 (2017) (police departments often establish internal disciplinary procedures through collective bargaining contracts with a union).

[14] Id. at 1227.

[15] Id. at 1230.

[16] Id. at 1222–23.

[17] See Duggan, supra note 8.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Rushin, supra note 13, at 1244.

[22] Id. at 1246–47.

**Photo courtesy of CNN. See Zahira Rahim & Rob Picheta, Thousands Around the World Protest George Floyd’s Death in  Global Display of Solidarity, CNN (June 1, 2020),