While much remains unknown about the events that lead up to the arrest of George Floyd, a black man, over Memorial Day weekend, this much is sure: The arresting officers used unnecessary force, Floyd died shortly after, and this injustice must not go unpunished.
The four Minneapolis Police officers associated with Floyd’s death have been fired. That’s good, but if that’s the extent of the accountability in this case, it will be a miscarriage of justice, and a continuation of a trend that has gone on for far too long. As Senator Tim Scott pointed out, the next right step is to arrest them.
Too often, officers of the law get away with clear abuses of authority, both within their department and in the broader justice system. Of course, not every cop is guilty of this, but the more it happens, the more it does a disservice to the profession as a whole.
Fortunately, bystanders caught this arrest on camera, and the footage went viral. The video is damning. Regardless of the circumstances, there is no excuse for police officers to treat anyone with such unnecessary and lethal force when there is no present danger. Minneapolis Police report there was a “forgery in progress.” Guilty of the alleged crime or not, Floyd’s life and right to a fair judicial process were stripped from him. No person should be treated this way, let alone die in the way that he did.
Whether these four cops in their abuse of power are indicative of the entire force or whether they were outliers is beside the point. The greater issue is that our police system allows for such violence and abuse to occur. The more laws that there are, the more opportunity there is for law enforcement to cross that line, as they did with Floyd. And until there is a legal framework to effectively deal with officers who abuse their authority and violate individual rights, there will be no incentive for officers to use restraint.
This incident by the Minneapolis Police echoes the case of Eric Garner, who died in New York in 2014 at the hands of the police over suspicion of selling illegal cigarettes. Both Garner and Floyd were choked and cried out “I can’t breath” to anyone who would listen. Like Floyd, Garner was not engaging in any violent activity, yet the police chose in both cases to respond with unnecessary force, claiming their lives.
If perpetrated by civilians, the deaths of individuals like Garner and Floyd would be handled with the full force of the justice system. Likewise, if the roles were reversed, and if any of those individuals happened to kill the officers that confronted them, we could expect their punishments to be swift and severe. Yet, you’ve got to wonder whether these officers would have even been fired if it weren’t for the video of George Floyd’s final moments.
While law enforcement is meant to protect and serve their community, too often there are those who get caught up in their own authority. This disproportionately affects minority communities and only furthers the racial divide in America.
Today, when everyone with a phone is a walking camera, it is much easier to catch these moments in real time. Still, there are moments that go unnoticed. We shouldn’t have to rely on viral videos to expect restraint from those who swore to protect and serve.
Policing isn’t the only area in criminal justice where we need reform. In fact, prison reform and rehabilitation usually dominates the conversation. But policing reform is a crucial step in fixing the system overall. We cannot expect to live in a just society if all it takes to get a pass on murder is a badge.
Rather than getting treated as a higher class of citizen, police officers must be held to the utmost highest standards. Having more body cameras, reforming or ending qualified immunity (a doctrine that protects law enforcement from lawsuits they might incur in the line of duty), and having departments engage in more deescalation training are a few ways we can start having meaningful reforms.
No reform will solve every instance of abuse or prevent every case like Floyd’s. But the more reforms are enacted, the more police officers will be incentivized to practice restraint. It will also make it easier to hold those who do abuse their authority accountable in a meaningful way. Certainly, there have been too many instances of policing going south to simply count Floyd’s case as a one-off. Every careless death at the hands of law enforcement is one too many and more than enough to make policing reform a top priority.