With rioting 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 renegade 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 nearly nine minutes, an act of police brutality that allegedly killed Floyd. But not one of the three — including two who helped keep Floyd pinned down for at least part of the time — made a serious move to intervene, to say that enough is enough and that their fellow officer, Derek Chauvin, 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 much other than one suggesting to Chauvin a couple of times that Floyd be rolled onto his side.
Until this changes — until police officers and their leaders recognize that a decade’s worth of goodwill 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.
The other place where cooler heads are needed is among the protesters. The First Amendment protects the right to peaceably assemble. The operative word is “peaceably.” By no definition does the First Amendment give anyone the right to set vehicles or property on fire, to vandalize buildings or statues, to loot businesses or do bodily harm to others, including police officers.
It’s no surprise that the violent outbursts have captured more of the nation’s attention than have the organized peaceful protest marches complaining about police mistreatment of black citizens. The marchers who are genuinely distraught by what happened in Minneapolis appear now to be outnumbered by those who are using Floyd’s death as an excuse to destroy and pillage.
When cars and buildings are burning, the original intent of a protest is destroyed. No march is going to win over public opinion by leaving a trail of damage in its wake. If anything, it will have the exact opposite effect, turning the focus away from police brutality to something that scares the public even more — lawless anarchy.
Floyd’s brother, Terrence, pleaded Monday from the site of the incident that sparked the explosion in civil unrest for the rioting to stop. He said, rightfully so, that the way to champion reform is not through violent intimidation but by electing people who will work to root out injustice.
Those who ignore Terrence Floyd’s plea are not only dangerous. They are undermining the cause for which they pretend to be fighting.