Saturday, May 30, 2020

On George Floyd and the Response

Let me begin by saying that I, like most Americans and people around the world, am disgusted by the murder of George Floyd. His death is inexcusable and unquestionably a murder which the law should deal with harshly.

The rage felt by his neighbors is understandable, and that's all I'll say about the protests. I would like to speak about two things I am seeing in the aftermath that are different from times before. One very inspiring and the other disturbing.

In my years, I've seen this cycle of police brutality leading to public reaction a number of times. Too often, the brutality is captured on film and everyone can see for themselves what happened. Politicians and other police will want to wait and delay while an investigation occurs. Police across the country will step up to defend their brothers in blue, no matter what the facts say.

This time is different. I read an article this morning in The Day (our local paper) in which the police chiefs of a number of towns decried the murder of Mr. Floyd as just that, a murder. Instead of standing with the murderer as has happened in the past, they distanced themselves from him. It's not just our local police: individuals, chiefs, and departments have made public statements that they are disgusted by what happened. Some have called for prosecution of the murderer and the other officers who stood by and let it happen.

Today in New London, the police chief came to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally. The local chief of police came to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally. This is huge and needs to be recognized as an important step.

Most police officers are good, honest, hard working people who do what they do in order to keep their communities safe, but as long as they defend the criminals among them, they are all tarnished by their actions. However, when they take a stand against the racists and the bullies in their ranks, that is when the culture changes and those who would abuse their power will think twice, knowing that they'll be punished just like a civilian would be for similar violence.

Police as bullies brings me to my second observation: the arrest of an entire CNN crew on live TV. Some police sometimes forget that their job is to enforce the law, and instead think they are the law. This is the root of tyranny, when police, the authorized wielders of violence on behalf of the State, see the people as their enemy to be defeated rather than as their neighbors to be protected.

20 years ago, I, as a representative of the Student Government of UMass Amherst, was standing with a group of administrators observing a riot on campus. For no reason that could be determined, a mounted officer rode over, reached down, grabbed me by the throat and pushed me back. To this day, I do not understand why this happened, as we were a safe distance from the police activity.

In situations such as a riot, there are people, such a the media and others, who have a legitimate reason to be there. The police have an obligation to protect them so long as they abide by any instructions of the police. In this situation, the CNN crew clearly and repeatedly asked for instructions and indicated their intention to follow whatever guidance was given. They offered no resistance and only compliance. The police offered no instructions, and simply arrested them without explanation.

The officers probably thought they had some good reason to do what they did. Maybe they gave instructions previously, but there is always the chance instructions are misunderstood, and an arrest should be explained if there is time to do so, as there was in this case.

The police then proceeded to lie to the public about facts that were clearly evident in watching the many minutes of footage, broadcast live to millions of viewers.

While the image of Mr. Floyd being murdered is horrifying, it can be addressed with prosecution. The images of the CNN crew being arrested are also disturbing in another way, because they show a hubris which is truly terrifying. The hubris of arresting authorized, credentialed members of the media and lying about the details of the arrest.

It is this hubris which leads to deaths of many innocent black men. It is this hubris that leads to so many other unjust interactions with police.

It is this hubris and an effort to counter it which should bring together both the Right and the Left. When the Left says "Black Lives Matter" and the Right says "Don't Tread On Me," they are both objecting to the hubris of law enforcement when they forget that they are here to protect and serve, not dominate and control.

Of course, this is not all police. This is probably not even most police. Most police officers put on the uniform because they truly want to protect and serve. But remember, the expression is not "a few bad apples can be removed and the rest are okay." The expression is "a few bad apples ruin the whole bunch."

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