Updated at 4:40 p.m. May 26

The 2020 murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer spurred a national movement for accountability of law enforcement — including the creation of a police reform law in Massachusetts.

Three years later, local activists and policymakers question the effectiveness of many changes and community efforts, asking whether the public is any safer from the very people tasked with their protection.

“There is a lot of fear around calling the police,'' said Barbara Atim Okeny, outreach and education director for the Lynn-based nonprofit, Diverse People United. People still worry that when police come in, she said, instead of helping, "they may be treated as though they're a threat.”

Okeny's organization formed as a direct response to Floyd’s murder and has been working to create an unarmed crisis response team for the community. While the project received initial support and funding, Okeny said she's frustrated that there’s been “a very significant lack of progress.” Especially, she said, “considering how many years it's been since George Floyd passed.”

Okeny is not alone. Local community advocates, including those who’ve suffered their own tragic losses, agree change is slow coming.

And at the state level, even those tasked with improving the system say more needs to be done. In 2020, Massachusetts created a civilian-led body known as the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, or POST, as part of a police reform law. The organization has created new regulations and processes, recertified thousands of police officers and suspended 33 other police officers. But POST Executive Director Enrique Zuniga acknowledges work is ongoing.

“There was a lot of energy and momentum right after to say, 'We need reform, we need accountability and public trust," Zuniga told GBH News. "That's going to take a little longer.”

What the POST Commission has done

The POST Commission is charged with implementing a mandatory certification process for police officers, including investigating misconduct complaints and creating guidance on de-escalation. Members of the regulatory body include law enforcement, a former judge, a social worker and a chaplain.

But advocates like Lisa Thurau of the Cambridge-based Strategies for Youth, which works to improve interactions with law enforcement, say the commission faces many challenges. Thurau wants to see more clarity and action on how police are allowed to interact with students in schools.

“Translating this into a reality at the frontline level is a huge undertaking. Sometimes I wonder if the POST is adequately funded to do it, and how it's going to play out in certain departments that really do not want the oversight,” she said. “While the POST creates a system of oversight, there's still a lot of resistance.”

By the end of 2022, the commission documented nearly 2,000 complaints about police officers from residents and law enforcement agencies required to share complaints they receive. Among actions, the commission recently decertified an officer who was part of a Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Zuniga said. The commission has “about 43 open investigations,” he said.

The commission also has released multiple lists of police officers deemed “not certified” because they’ve failed to complete training requirements, are on an excused leave, or because of disciplinary issue.

“Many of them exited the system, resigned or retired prior to discipline,’’ Zuniga said. “It still means that we do not certify them and they cannot be employed by other police agencies in the commonwealth.”

And the commission faces serious pushback. Among critics, a group of police officers filed a lawsuit last April over the workings of the commission and a questionnaire officers had to answer for recertification. The case is ongoing. But already a judge blocked the commission from asking officers to disclose social media posts that could be perceived “as biased” and whether they’re part of any groups that “unlawfully discriminated” on the basis of demographics like race, gender identity, immigration, and sexual orientation.

Some worry this will let bad actors slip away without consequences. But Zuniga says the law protects that from happening: "There is a provision in the statute that if somebody is facing an investigation — either by the agency or the POST — and decides to resign or retire to avoid discipline, the investigation must continue and be finished and be adjudicated as if the person was still employed.”

Critics also question a delayed release of officer disciplinary records, mandated by the state law in an effort to improve transparency. Zuniga initially said the records would be released in 2022, but they are still not available.

Debate centers around pressure from police unions and law enforcement over what will be released amidst concerns from the public that information will be watered down.

Zuniga acknowledged criticism about delays is “fair.” However, he said, the disciplinary records that were submitted had “too many data integrity concerns” and departments needed to resubmit information.

The push for reform continues

Three years after Floyd’s death, community activists say tragedies keep happening and people should not look away.

In Cambridge, the shooting death by a police officer of a 20-year-old college student from the University of Massachusetts in Boston renewed conversations about what justice should look like in cases of police violence and brutality.

“How do we define justice? Really, how does his family define justice when there's no bringing him back?” said Fatema Ahmad, executive director of the Boston-based Muslim Justice League.

In response to Sayed Faisal’s death, Cambridge launched an independent review of the shooting and provided $3 million for a community safety department that would respond to some nonviolent calls. City officials also are considering a policy that would name police officers involved in use-of-force cases.

In Boston, a spokesperson and core organizer from BLM Boston who identifies as part of the Black Freedom Front, said the work has continued through an array of initiatives such as a food justice program, study hall and monthly community meetings.

“Organizers do this work every day, we don’t have the luxury of putting it down when it’s not popular,” said the spokesperson, who did not want to be identified due to safety concerns. “Unfortunately, the battle of freedom, justice and inequality has not been won, and we acknowledge all people who have died.”

Nate McLean-Nichols, program director for the Center for Teen Empowerment's Boston chapter, said he has seen a new generation of young people become involved in activism since the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

“It's inspiring to know that the actions of young people, like myself who were engaged in those protests, are also inspiring newer generations of young people,” he said.

And in Quincy, Annemarie Grant is still fighting for reform since her brother Thomas Purdy died in a jail cell in 2015 in Reno, Nevada. Purdy was hog-tied by police officers after an incident at a hotel. He repeatedly complained he couldn't breathe, and his pleas for help and medical attention went unanswered.

Grant co-founded the Impacted Families coalition in the summer of 2021, to work toward advocating for legislative change in Massachusetts and across the nation. She is currently working to push elected officials to require independent investigations when police use deadly force. She doesn’t want people to think the fight is over.

“Any family can be affected by police violence,” Grant said. “I never in a million years thought that my brother would be asphyxiated to death by law enforcement. And I deal with the devastating and traumatizing effects of it every day.”

This story was updated to include more details about Thomas Purdy's death.