Thoughts by Richard Bleil
In the wake of the George Floyd protests, America is left with the question of what comes next. Slogans won’t cut it. The president today said “equal justice under the law must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, color, gender or creed. They have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement.” This might make for a nice sound bite, but simply saying “we can do better” is meaningless. We have been calling for an end to brutality and racism for years, but clearly it still exists. This shows that saying “we can do better” is not how to do better.
Some people are calling for changes within the system. I’ve seen attempts at these changes firsthand. Working as a civilian employee at a police department, after racial tensions I’ve seen the department try to address the tension by painting one of the cruisers in a manner that was supposed to be respectful of the diversity in the city as if this is more than a puff news story. I’ve seen them create an “advisory board” that was supposed to consist of the primary cultural group wherein the stress is the greatest, then saw the efforts watered down by the very department creating the group, especially since this group had no authority.
The real problem is the entire foundation of the police system. Yes, from the ground up, the system is flawed. I’m not suggesting we dismantle the police, but we need more than surface superficial modifications for the sake of saying something was done. I suspect a complete overhaul is necessary, beginning with planning while keeping police in force, then transitioning.
The news today has a story that clearly shows the imbalance in modern police departments. On June 4, police in crowd control gear (shields, helmets, etc.) marched through the streets of Buffalo, New York when a lone (seek the video; he was alone) approached some of them. The man was 75-year-old Martin Gugino, a white man whose motives are unknown to me but clearly approached without weapons, open and peacefully. In response, the police shoved the man backwards, causing him to fall when he struck his head, causing it to bleed and giving him a concussion. Several columns of police continued to march past the prone and immobilized wounded elderly man until finally one of them decided to render help.
Two officers involved in the shoving were suspended from the department without pay today. The action seems rapid compared to what happened to George Floyd, but the dismissal caused quite an upheaval in the department when fifty-seven police officers, the entire Buffalo police department force, resigned from the Emergency Response Team in support of the two officers that were relieved of duties.
Think about this. While they remember active members of the police department, the anger is not at what these officers did, remorse for the injured citizen, but anger at the citizen, but anger at the citizen, but anger at the citizen, but anger at the firing. On my social media, I said I didn’t know what to be more upset about: the way they treated this elderly citizen in the first place; the 57 officers who apparently believe they should be exempt from the repercussions of their individual actions in group operations; the police training that taught them how to respond to a peaceful protester with violence; the police policies that suggested that this is the appropriate action to take; or the clearly systematic violence that lead these officers to act like this, and suggested to the remaining fifty-seven that they should be automatically protected by the institution. This feeling in invulnerability, no doubt strongly supported by the police unions, is undoubtedly behind the reason for the police brutality being protested today.
Most police are good people. They’re doing a difficult job, with the right motivation in their hearts, but the system is what is truly flawed. There is no doubt in my mind that most, if not all, of the fifty-seven officers who resigned are good police officers, but if this is indeed the case, then you have to ask why they resigned in a show of solidarity and support for this act of unjustified police brutality. There is no way those two officers could have felt threatened by an elderly unarmed man, so why would the other officers support an assault that put him in a serious medical condition? The answer, the only answer possible, is a violent and flawed justice system in its entirety. Police are taught they will be protected, rather than that they will be held liable for their actions and held, in fact, to a higher standard of ethics than normal citizens. New oversight groups won’t fix this. You cannot repair the foundation of a building by working on the roof.