Will George Floyd's Death Prompt Police Reform?
Every time there’s a well publicized controversial killing of a black man by a white police officer there are calls for police reform. But each time the focus on these pleas for change fades away with time. Will the killing of George Floyd be any different?
It’s a question that, admittedly, can’t be answered. But I sense attitudes are changing because of Floyd’s death.
Everyone by now has seen the killing of Floyd at the knee of then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. It seems to me, those images have moved a lot of people who previously were quick to blanketly defend police into taking a new look at policing in America.
A friend of mine, a conservative police supporter, has always been quick to suggest mitigating circumstances in many of these cases. So his comments to me this week were unexpected and jarring.
“Everyone saw what that cop did to George Floyd,” he said. “It was murder, pure and simple.
“I’d like to be the one to flip the switch on the electric chair. In fact, I’d then like to give him a lethal dose just to be sure he’s dead.” (The death penalty was abolished in Minnesota in 1911).
Other people who are typical defenders of the police have made similar comments to me. Perhaps more importantly, so have a number of my police officer friends. They argue, not only were Chauvin’s actions unacceptable but embarrassing to their chosen profession.
“Whenever a cop acts stupid like this it reflects on me and makes it harder for me to do my job,” one NYPD officer commented.
A retired police chief I know also suggested that Chauvin be given the maximum penalty under the law. And says no cop should be defending his actions.
Of course, these kinds of emotive reactions to Floyd’s death are not particularly unusual. But I find the source of the comments interesting. And that’s what leads me to speculate that there may be a growing intolerance to poor police training and supervision, not only from folks who typically defend the cops, but from within their own ranks.
In the end, that’s really where the change must take place. We can discuss and improve training all we want, and we should. But unless the cops on the beat are on board with an attitudinal change we’re not going to get anywhere with this.
I know a lot of cops, both current and retired. And I’m proud to call many of them my friends. The cops I know well abhor excessive behavior by other officers. But all too often their voices are muted. Sometimes because of a culture that suggests that, because their profession is under assault they have to defend their fellow officers no matter what.
Perhaps these anecdotal conversations I’ve shared indicate that attitude is starting to change.