On my weekly podcast, I have been asking recent guests “What’s so different about now?” Why so much outrage about the George Floyd murder? Why does it seem as if there are more white citizens taking to the streets and protesting the heinous death of George Floyd in comparison to the myriad of other police killings caught on video? We’ve had cell phone video and other surveillance cameras for about 10 years now, maybe even longer. We have seen these pornographic snuff films of Black lives before. So what has made this incident the straw that broke the camel’s back or the last drop in the bucket?
In 2014 we watched John Crawford III gunned down without warning at a Walmart in an open carry state. The same year we saw Tamir Rice playing in a park when a citizen called the police on him. Their response was tactically unsound, brutal, and ultimately deadly. The same year the world watched and came to grips with the intentional, systematic, and racist targeting of Ferguson Black citizens by their own elected officers. The slaying of Mike Brown seemed as if that would be the last straw. But no, a month or so later Eric Garner gasped his last breath while police and onlookers heard him beg with his life with the now-iconic mantra of “I Can’t Breathe!” In response to his cries, the members of the public, who are supposed to protect his and every other citizens’ life, shamefully took to the streets in protest of the protests and wore T-shirts declaring that they can breathe. In April 2015 in a case that still baffles me, the world saw a police officer shoot an unarmed, fleeing Walter Scott in the back and then witnessed the assailant, Michael Slager, plant evidence at the scene to implicate and frame Scott. In this case, Slager lied on his report and would have gotten away with the murder had it not been for a citizen who videoed the incident. Amazingly, the first trial for Slager ended in a hung jury. Slager finally pleaded guilty to federal charges and took a 20-year plea deal. Sometime later a University of Cincinnati police officer performed a routine traffic stop (off-campus) in 2015. When the driver, Samuel DuBose, attempted to drive away from the officer, former Officer Ray Tensing, who was not going to be injured by the fleeing car, shot DuBose as it sped away. DuBose, died not because he was trying to kill an officer, but because he didn’t want a traffic ticket. In 2016 Alton Sterling was trying to make a few dollars to feed his family by selling CDs in front of a convenience store. When police arrived in force they were determined to teach him and others like him a lesson and murdered him in a violent struggle. Let me ask you, the reader, does selling CDs, loose cigarettes, and passing fake 20 dollar bills warrant the death penalty?
In 2018 Antwon Rose was shot in the back while fleeing from the police. It is true that Rose was a suspect in a drive-by shooting, but let me remind you that running away from an officer should not warrant the death penalty. Let me also remind the reader that in this country one is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, not the court of public opinion, nor by an officer on the street. Of course, once again there were no consequences for the offending officer who had only been sworn in only hours before.
These are only a small glimpse of the national stories which caused outrage in which individuals have lost their lives at the hands of the police. If there are white people reading this, can you imagine the police responding to a pool party and slamming your 12-year-old daughter to the ground and then running around and doing rolls? What about having guns draw on you because your daughter took a doll from a dollar store? Should the refusal to put out a cigarette in the car that you pay for, rise to the level of contempt of cop and demand be your removal from that vehicle? Does the neighborhood one live in mean that officers should be more fearful and just shoot into widows without concern where and who the bullets may strike? Is it fair to be sleeping in one’s home when the state breaks down in the door with no-knock raid warrants and kills one in their sleep? And then have the nerve to arrest the protector of his home who survived the surreptitious entry?
Again I ask, Why Now? The year 2020 has been one for the ages. First, the COVID 19 pandemic has ravaged more African Americans than other citizens of the US. Then we witness the tragic death to Ahmaud Arbery who was jogging through his neighborhood. Even if he wasn’t’ “jogging”, then at the very minimum he was looking in an unfinished home, just as many other citizens do every day. What was so different about him looking in an unfinished home than other persons? Could it have been the fact that he was an African American? A big, bad, scary black man who needs to be controlled? Could it be that he was seen as more menacing, larger, and dangerous? A few months later we witnessed the execution, some would say lynching of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis by the hands of the very people sworn to protect and defend his life. The result of the atrocious murder has been an outpouring of civil unrest which some are saying are among the largest ever.
With all that I’ve mentioned, and I could have mentioned so much more, why now? And these are only the police actions. I did not mention the “Karens” who are calling the police for barbecuing, selling water, sleeping in dorms, moving in apartments, delivering Fed-Ex packages (in uniform), bird watching, swimming, attempting to gain access to their homes, picking up trash around their complex, wearing a police uniform and trying to going home at the end of a long day or, you know, just generally being Black in public.
I believe that many Americans have grown weary of police officers who are abusing their power and allowed to get away with their crimes by simply saying, they were scared. Having done the job for years, I can tell you I never pulled my weapon on someone who was struggling on the ground. Did I mention that I’ve been a defensive tactics instructor? In other words, I was one of many persons who were responsible for instructing officers and recruits on how to safely apprehend suspects. It was never part of our curriculum nor courses to teach officers to choke people, nevertheless, put our knees in their necks. That Daniel Pantaleo, Eric Garner’s killer, used that banned chokehold and was never brought up on charges is a shame to the citizens of NY, an embarrassment to the Justice Department and in my estimation, why that jackass, Derrick Chauvin, George Floyd’s murderer did what he did. Because Pantaleo got away with his crime, Chauvin was emboldened not to listen to Floyd nor the onlookers’ pleas when they were all begging for his life. Had Pantaleo been convicted years ago our cities right now may not be on fire today.
There are so many other tools on an officer’s belt that should be utilized before going to the gun or using lethal force. Instead of shooting people, how about employing de-escalation techniques, bean bags, pepper balls, k-9s, Tasers, or batons first. The question for me is why are so many officers relying on the gun first before employing other techniques when dealing with combative or non-compliant suspects?
It is refreshing to witness the protests and to see so many police chiefs’ and sheriffs taking knees and marching with protestors in solidarity. But if I can be skeptical, which I will be, let me state my concern. I truly hope that this is not a moment in time which will be forgotten. Real, true and lasting reform is demanded by the public. The police executives who are in solidarity now need to be in solidarity when and if the politicians and policymakers attempt to roll out real reforms. We will need the same police executives to lock arms with the public and embrace the very policies and legal changes that the public demands. It is then that we will see whether the execs were serious in solidarity.
Here is a quick list of ideas that I believe could bridge the divide between the community and the public:
- Adopt a California style standard for the use of deadly force. Most states’ standard for an officer’s use of force is that of reasonable. That standard should be changed to “necessary”. Part of the review process after a deadly officer-involved-shooting (OIS) (killing) should be a review of all the methods the officer employed or tried to employ before engaging in the use of lethal force.
- When and if an officer is found to have used excessive force or applied techniques directly outlawed or prohibited in state law or their rules and regulations, the taxpayers should not be on the hook. Any payouts that are deemed fit by the civil courts or citizens should be paid by the officer first. Make him/her sell their home, liquidate their kid’s college fund and dip into retirement funds. That may put an end too many uses of force complaints quickly.
- Do I really need to state that if officers use a banned technique that their city should immediately fire them and them that in and of itself should be a cause for arrest?
- All OIS must be reviewed by an independent agency. The cases of Arbery and Floyd are typical examples that many prosecutors and medical examiners simply cannot be trusted. That D.A. Barnhill in GA (Arbery Case) wrote a ridiculous letter that was highly criticized by other district attorney shows clears bias on his part. In the case of Floyd, the medical examiner for the county refused to call Floyd’s death a homicide until the independent autopsy revealed what the world knew, that Floyd was murdered.
- Each state should review its officer Bill of Rights or whatever governs how and when officers can give statements in OIS cases. Modifications to that system may be needed.
- State oversight commissions and proper accounting on how and when officers use force, deadly force should be kept in a database. Departments and cities which refuse to be transparent should have their accreditation pulled, insurance policies canceled, funding stopped, and should receive no federal funding for any project, not even for schools or roads.
- This accounting should monitor troubled officers and put in a place system to retrain or fire troubled officers based upon a progressive discipline model.
- Officers fired or those who have resigned from law enforcement agencies because of misconduct should never be allowed to work in law enforcement ever again, in that city, another city or another state.
- Review and do a comparative analysis of any rules and regulations which are questionable and remove them from policy manuals. The Eric Garner incident occurred in 2014. In 2020 after the Floyd incident the Minneapolis PD is now reviewing their guidelines and removing or banning chokeholds or techniques which inhibit breathing. That should have been done years ago after the Garner incident. Police departments, cities, towns, counties, and states should be reviewing and constantly updating use of force policies and guidelines before a crisis develops.
- Under the current presidential administration, the use of consent decrees and government monitoring has all but ceased. And look at the mess that has erupted in its wake. Bring back government overwatch, consent decrees, and the Obama administration policy of the 21st Century Policing Model.
- Every department should have an enforceable policy that states that officers MUST intervene when they witness another officer engaging in misconduct or brutality. During the recent 2020 protest, a viral video shows Buffalo PD officers push a 75-year-old man to the ground. When an officer goes to give him the medical attention he is stopped by another officer. The man appears to be unconscious and bleeding from his ears. How many police officers walk past him while he needs medical attention? The officers who put the man in harm’s way are immediately suspended and what is the response from their cohorts? Fifty-seven members of their riot control, unit resign in protest of the suspensions. This is the blue wall of silence and solidarity run amuck. I say, why stop at resigning from the unit, why not the police department entirely? If they are unwilling to understand why these people are protesting in the first place by now, then they will never understand. A decent officer can’t honestly believe that being a member of the riot control unit means pushing elderly men to the ground and watching them bleed from their ears while being stepped over. Let me also say, that there may be something we’re all missing, but it doesn’t appear that way.
These are only some of the reforms that people are calling for and which I agree need to take place. People didn’t want to listen to Kaepernick 4 years ago, and the NFL is now acknowledging that was a mistake, hopefully, the police execs, politicians and oligarchs are listening now.