As outrage burns over the murder of George Floyd, my commitment to police reforms & accountability has never been stronger. I’m outraged because the actions of those officers do not represent our honorable profession. I’m outraged by the depravity shown by Derek Chauvin under the color of authority, and we all instantly knew every cop was going to wear that crime for a long time. Rightly so.
Not because all or even most women and men who serve as police would ever condone such despicable behavior. That’s a given. What brands us is the internal malfeasance that keeps us from removing such people long before they commit their violent act or crime that stains everyone in a uniform.
The video of George Floyd’s murder laid bare the complicity of our entire profession. We have insisted for decades that only bad apples commit the worst abuses. Any mention of those “bad apples” is met with strong protests and denials. It’s not me, it’s not me! We cry.
The last two weeks exposed the ugly underbelly of a law enforcement culture that has been tolerated far too long. The horror of George Floyd’s death showed us all the deeper systemic cancer: One truly criminal actor and the shock of three others who either did not care or did not feel empowered to stop him. No, police misconduct isn’t increasing, it is simply being videotaped. The ongoing civil unrest is policing’s collective penance for refusing to reform on its own.
Good cops & police leaders: Just because you think there is no problem in your community doesn’t mean people of color feel the same. Understand you have blind spots. The civil unrest in your city should tell you things aren’t quite as rosy as you think. People who have been on the receiving end of rude, dismissive, aggressive, or abusive cops are walking around with unresolved pain and anger. Please hear the pleas of marginalized communities who have been crying out over mistreatment and abuse by people you know need to be removed from the police profession.
We all know who they are. Line officers know who they are. Police managers and staff know who they are. There’s just never enough collective will to purge them. So, they remain among us like cancer, insidiously infecting the squads around them. Supporting a subculture that in practice counters and undermines the police mottos of protect and serve and all of our lip service about community policing. We have always pretended because they haven’t done something that rises to the level of criminality, their behavior can be ignored. Like our racist uncle who rants and we shake our heads, the time has come to acknowledge that the harm they do. The daily microaggressions they inflict on people are just as damaging to our professional credibility and when their conduct rises to outright criminal behavior? God help us, we’re seeing the result.
Police leaders have failed our communities by failing to address this systemic, pervasive issue that they absolutely know exists. Why are so many disciplined officers allowed to resign and keep their certifications? How is it possible that there are databases of cops known to have committed sexual misconduct or are flagged as criminals, and still walking around in uniforms? Why is there no leadership push for national standards to decertify bad cops?
Why is it taking two weeks of rioting in the streets to get most of you to even acknowledge publicly that we have to make some changes?
After Rodney King’s beating, evidence showed us LAPD officers sending racist computer messages like “gorillas in the mist.” Ten years later, I knew officers who used racist acronyms to remember the streets in the projects: AFRO SCUM. The investigations following Ferguson, Chicago, and Baltimore revealed continuing racial undertones. Minneapolis has a long, fraught history of police brutality in their city. Let’s not forget it is where Philando Castillo was murdered, even though he was a lawful gun owner and did everything the officer told him to do.
These are truths. Police truths. It is no longer enough for any of us to say, “I’m not racist” or “I’m not that cop.” We refuse to look at our racist past in the eye and deal with it and it is long past time for our police culture to stop pretending race isn’t still a significant issue. The people of color in our communities still feel the undertow of bias in many encounters. They are frustrated by our collective failure to do anything meaningful day to day. We need to drop our defensive shields and get real with our fellow citizens.
And we have to start cleaning our own house. The cops that make every call harder because they piss the citizen off almost immediately. The cops that intentionally piss off the citizen so they can say, “Uncooperative. Back in service.” The supervisor who runs an entrapment traffic detail to stop cars in the black neighborhood. The jerk who purposely drives through puddles and splashes people just for fun. The one who “testilies” because the guy in the back seat probably got away with plenty of other stuff anyway. The non-stop microaggressions and indignities committed by these kinds of cops are festering wounds in minority communities. So, why are we surprised when the next shooting turns into a riot?
The code of silence ends here, my friends. You may not have the power to fire a bad cop, but you must make it clear to your unprofessional peers that racism and abuse of power are not tolerated. They make your job more difficult and they endanger your safety every day. You also have the power to change the culture of your unions. If you think it’s wrong to protect bad cops, then make them stop doing it. If they are beating a drum of us vs. them, they are not truly protecting you, they are fomenting dangerous divisions that will endanger you further.
I believe good cops want bad cops held accountable. The protests in the streets are demanding reforms and policies to help do just that. We all must be part of the solution. You must reject those among you who do not uphold the integrity of policing. You must speak. Follow your oath. Lead, though it may not be easy. Police leaders must help you by standing up and calling out the systemic failures that keep bad cops on the job. Taking these steps will earn community support. Community support and trust are what will make you safer.
Please do not listen to those who tell you citizens hate you. Or that there is a war on cops. Policing has always been dangerous. The truly criminal will attack peace officers. They always have and always will. But the fact is policing is safer than it has been in decades. There is no war on cops. There is a war on bad cops. There is a war on abusive cops. There is a war on dirty cops. Rightly so. They are the criminal in your midst.
To my fellow citizens, outraged over a seeming avalanche of videos showing murders and abuses of citizens at the hands of police. I hear you. Change must occur. It is unacceptable in a democratic, civil society, and should not happen. Sadly, it happens over and over. Police misconduct is a cancer and protests are the cure. As Dr. King famously said, “A riot is the cry of the unheard.”
I believe the images of uniformed police officers callously murdering a man in their custody has finally awakened us for good. The time has come for real change at long last. Keep up the fight, but do it peacefully. We’ve had lots of examples of good cops kneeling & expressing solidarity with you. Let’s build on those connections. Hold those who do not deserve the public trust to account. Let’s demand justice and control over how we are policed. That’s how it works in a democracy. You have the entire world’s attention. Let’s finally achieve the dream of justice.