In the midst of Donald Trump’s ongoing resistance to acknowledging that Joe Biden is the President-elect and while the fight for control of the Senate continues with the neck-and-neck fight for the two Georgia Senate seats, on December 7, social justice activists and progressive allies did receive some undeniably good news: Virginia became the first state to enact statewide legislation banning no-knock search warrants – one of many police procedures that has enabled police violence against Black Americans.
The bill Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law is called “Breonna’s Law” to memorialize Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician and aspiring nurse who was murdered in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13 by police officers during a no-knock raid.
Some cities have passed citywide orders against no-knock warrants, including Louisville and Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by police two months later. And two other states, Oregon and Florida, already ban them. But in the nearly nine months since Taylor was killed, Virginia is the only state legislature to have taken up and successfully passed such legislation.
In many ways, this win was made possible by years of organizing by progressive activists and organizations, including People For, to turn Virginia blue. We have been deeply invested in Virginia elections since 2012. Since then, we have nurtured civic engagement among Virginia’s Latino voters one election at a time, and built a bench of young, diverse and progressive leaders who are dedicated to improving equity, justice and opportunity in the commonwealth. And in 2019, our hard work paid off when Democrats took control of both chambers of the legislature – which, in turn, solidified the passage of Breonna’s Law in 2020.
This year, more and more progressive candidates ran on platforms that explicitly addressed police violence, and they won up and down the ballot. People For’s Next Up Victory Fund created a slate to support candidates who pledged to stop police killings – and at least 45 of them won their races. In fact, Virginia Del. Lashrecse Aird, who sponsored Breonna’s Law, is herself a Next Up endorsee.
The ban on no-knock warrants in Virginia offers a compelling example of how local leaders can create progressive change and advance racial justice in a meaningful, tangible way. The achievement also underscores the power of the people in shaping local measures to improve their communities: During the 2020 general election, several cities passed initiatives to reorganize policing systems, reduce police militarization and brutality, and increase officer accountability.
These voter-approved ballot initiatives include, among many others:
- Kyle, TX voters passed a proposition requiring police policies to be reviewed by both the city council and an independent committee.
- Led by their Mayor, Jesse Arreguin, and Council Member, Rigel Robinson – both members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network – the community of Berkeley, CA passed an ordinance to pull all traffic stops and enforcement from the police department into its own department made up of unarmed civil servants.
- Ceasing the unconstitutional practice of stop and frisk was supported by voters in Philadelphia, PA, as was another that approved the creation of a police oversight commission.
- In Denver, CO, School Board Director Tay Anderson – another member of our Foundation’s YEO Network – introduced and passed a resolution to end the contract between the police department and public schools.
- An amendment that will create a civilian police review board and an inspector general was passed in Columbus, OH.
- Portland, OR voters decisively passed a ballot measure creating a police oversight board to investigate officer misconduct.
Our votes – and our voices – matter. Many state and local legislatures will not move on law enforcement reform unless they hear from their constituents. If we want greater and more consistent strides toward police reform and other racial and social justice issues, we must continue to vote for candidates who prioritize those issues.
Progressive voters made it clear in 2020: We will support candidates and ballot measures that tackle the injustices in our country’s policing system and other institutions. But there is far more work to be done to achieve freedom for all people.
As People For President Ben Jealous said, “We must continue to march, protest, demonstrate, obstruct, vote and use whatever peaceful means necessary to demand change. We must do it for Breonna. We must do it for every family who has had to suffer the heartbreaking disappointment of a system that continues time and time again to deny their humanity.”