Terrible headline, I know, but that’s what’s going on in America today. It’s disgusting and needs to stop immediately. There is a way forward, and we need to get moving fast.
In the past month, we’ve seen a non-violent, handcuffed black man executed in broad daylight by four rogue police officers, people ironically charged by society with keeping the peace. If a black man killed anyone in broad daylight and on video, let alone a police officer, they would be locked up in seconds, no questions asked. In this case, it took the Minneapolis district attorney three full days of apparent deep thinking to charge the primary officer, and a week to charge his three accomplices.
What’s bizarre, any one of the three accomplices could have easily stopped the execution by pushing the murderer off George Floyd’s neck. The murderer-cop literally had his hand in his pocket as he suffocated Mr. Floyd with his knee on his neck. Heck, a child could have stopped this murder.
In other recent racial injustice and hate-crime news, in Georgia we saw video where three white men conspire and murder a black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was out jogging. They pursued him and shot him in cold blood. And they almost got away with it, but the murder was recorded on video. After review of the clip by the police and district attorney, they decided to believe the white guys’ story that the runner was suspicious. It took weeks, but only after the video went public was there a massive public outcry for justice.
And in Louisville, Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician — and also a black woman — was executed in a massive spray of gunfire by police while sleeping in her own bed, next to her husband. They shot her eight times — while sleeping. The white cops were really looking for a perpetrator who lived 10 miles away. Even worse, the person they were looking for was already in custody back at the police station.
Sadly, there’s more. In New York, a white woman was video-recorded by a birdwatching black man, as she called 9–1–1 to report she was being attacked by the African-American gentleman who was calmly video recording her. Turns out she let her dog run off-leash in a part of Central Park that requires dogs to be on-leash, and she was unhappy being called out by someone as a bad pet owner. So she threatened this black man with being thrown in jail. Why? Because she could. She understood the narrative of weaponizing her whiteness to get the attention of police, who she hoped would come and arrest the black man, since that’s the common storyline.
We could go on with example after example of similar injustice, over years and years and years, but we need to ask: What the hell is going on?
In the U.S. there are 18,000 police departments, with about 800,000 full-time officers nationwide. Let’s assume 99% are great people. That’s 8,000 bad cops. What if it’s 99.9%? That still leaves 800 bad cops. Even if 99.99% are great, that’s still 80 bad officers. That’s a lot of infectious, bad people out there influencing others. Bottom line, this is a problem no matter how some try to minimize it. There are bad, racist cops out there. And sadly, a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch.
I’ve worked in local government for decades and know a lot of police officers. To a person, I’ve only known really good officers of many races. The ones in my world know the law, are respectful, care for their community, and are consummate professionals. They bravely put their lives on the line every day, running into altercations at a moment’s notice. When we know a bad person, no matter who they are, they can infect dozens of others in an organization with their bad attitude. Likewise, a single depraved, racist cop can infect a whole department, particularly if they do it over many years.
Racism advances when we don’t know each other. I recognize that sounds naïve, but it boils down to that. When we don’t know each other, we become suspicious, and we dehumanize. We lose civility, and in the hands of bad cops, that has led to murderous outcomes.
There are solutions, which include, de-escalation training, community policing, and turning this around to the cause of the problem by doing everything we can to weed out bad cops. Police officers need to learn how to take their time, learn how to talk to and connect with people, and learn new tactics for engaging. We were making progress several years ago, where police departments had consent decrees with the U.S. Department of Justice to train and reform police departments across the country. But a new president was elected, his Attorney General Jeff Sessions stopped enforcing the agreements, and the training stopped. We also know we have bad cops among us, and law enforcement has a poor record of confidentially policing their own; that is, disciplining and terminating cops and deputies who repeatedly cause problems. The Minneapolis murderer-cop had 17 complaints against him, so we have to find a better solution besides “trust us.” We need independent, community board reviews of problem officers.
As a white male, I don’t pretend to know an inkling of what it’s like to grow up or live life as a black or brown person. I sympathize, but I cannot truly comprehend at the depth I would like to know and feel. Parents may be responsible for teaching their children about the birds and the bees, but what’s it like to sit your 8-year old child down and teach them how to deal with police officers? How not to talk too much, and by no means, talk back? How to keep your hands visible and not to make any sudden moves? Watch this 5-minute video. It will break your heart.
Living in fear should not be a foundation of our society, but this is the daily anxiety of many African Americans. Jogging while black. Sleeping while Black. Driving while Black. Birdwatching while Black. African Americans are exhausted.
I am committed to listening, trying to understand, and then actively seeking change. I think it’s the minimum we can do to support African Americans seeking justice and creating the systemic change we so sorely need.
Last year our family visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture. There’s so much to talk about from that experience, but I left with one major takeaway. We would not have the United States we have today if it was not for African Americans. Slaves built this country. While we tend to focus on the extreme brutality and negative societal consequences of slavery, we don’t emphasize enough the remarkable contributions of African Americans to our country. We should be forever grateful for their influence and involvement in creating the U.S. of today, and we should be doing everything in our power to provide them every opportunity we can.
There is action we can take. We need to spend time connecting with people, understanding each other better, and humanizing each other. Maya Angelou noted we are more alike than we are unalike. We need to share our stories and celebrate our common qualities.
And there’s more, much more. The problems do not stem solely from bad cops. They are systemic in society, where the core includes housing, education and supporting struggling families. We need a refocus on the core issues, a reexamining of our nation’s soul. The cop killings have only laid bare the problem, which was bubbling just under the surface. We can also support black businesses and fund organizations that lift up the black community.
It’s time we fix it. While we need to make our voices heard and seek tangible commitments from leaders in every corner of our nation, states and communities to address racial inequities once and for all, that’s still just a pass-the-buck philosophy. What each of us needs to do is work to identify, challenge and change our own values, structures and behaviors that perpetuate systemic racism. The place to start is by looking in the mirror.
One more thing. I didn’t write this by myself. I had engaging input from family and friends of multiple generations and races. I thought I was woke, but my own first draft was lacking. Just by reaching out, I learned so much about the experiences of people close to me, people who I thought I knew, but did not fully understand their perspective. I appreciate what they taught me, and I thank them for opening up my eyes even further.
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