With violence and property crimes continuing in a number of cities after last week’s death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, America badly needs its cooler heads to prevail. Here are two places to start.
First is with the country’s law enforcement officers. The public should accept that policing will always have a few bad apples, just like any other profession. But these officers, who are regularly filmed abusing their powers, are making it difficult for the 98 percent of their peers who try to uphold their pledge to protect and serve the public, and who recognize when to use more force and when to use less.
One of the most frustrating elements of Floyd’s death is that three other police officers were with the one who kept his knee on the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for several minutes, eventually suffocating him. But not one of the three made a serious move to intervene — to say that enough is enough and that the officer was overdoing it.
“The Blue Wall of Silence” in police work, meaning the unwritten code not to call out a fellow officer no matter how poorly he behaves, is a very real thing. It’s the only possible way to explain why none of the other officers at Floyd’s arrest did anything.
Until this changes — until police officers and their leaders recognize that a decade’s worth of good will can be undone by one officer’s gross miscalculation over a few minutes — this trend of people (most always minorities) being injured or killed by police, followed by protests that turn violent, will continue.
Officers and superiors who respect the Blue Wall should recognize that continued excessive force puts all police officers at risk. How many officers have been injured around the country by responding to violent protests? If officers want to protect themselves, they need to be more willing to police themselves.
The other place where cooler heads are needed is among the protesters. The First Amendment protects the right to peaceably assemble. By no definition does that include the right to set vehicles or property on fire, to vandalize buildings or cause other damage.
It’s no surprise that the violent outbursts have captured more of the nation’s attention than have the organized protest marches complaining about police mistreatment of black citizens.
A legitimate protest march is usually a relatively calm event. It becomes even more tame when compared to images of masked people smashing store windows and setting fires.
It’s easy to sense that many of the protests of the past few days have very little to do with Floyd’s death. The marchers who are genuinely distraught by what happened in Minneapolis appear to be in the minority of a group that includes others who just want to cause damage.
By their very nature, protests are rarely organized in the sense that someone decides who gets to participate and who does not. That makes it easy for troublemakers to get involved.
But when cars and buildings are burning, the original intent of a protest is destroyed. No march is going to sway public opinion by leaving a trail of damage in its wake.
Jack Ryan, Enterprise-Journal