Police in the US city of Minneapolis arrived at the scene of an alleged theft on Monday, and there they failed the most basic tests of public service and humanity. At least one of the officers committed a horrifying act of abuse against an unarmed man as another stood by callously – and allowed the brutality to continue. And continue.
The African American man, George Floyd, died after being put in a prolonged chokehold by a white officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck as the man lay on the street near a police vehicle. Four officers were fired a day later, but that’s only the start of repercussions.
The death in custody has sparked off clashes in Minneapolis, with protesters throwing rocks and spraying graffiti and businesses being looted.
The FBI and state authorities are investigating. Criminal charges against the officers are possible. Members of the public are incensed. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has vowed to seek justice.
The Minneapolis Police Department is answerable for this heinous incident, but every force in America should reflect on why a pattern of excessive force against African Americans and other minorities has not been broken for good.
The phrase pattern of excessive force doesn’t fully capture the disregard for human life and lack of professional awareness apparently exhibited by the Minneapolis officers. Their gross mistreatment of Floyd mirrored another notorious case in New York City in 2014 when officers put Eric Garner, also an African American, in an elbow chokehold for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally. Garner’s last words – “I can’t breathe” – became a national rallying crying against police misconduct. That’s what Floyd said, too, as he lay on the ground. And yet, those Minneapolis officers did nothing to stop themselves from reenacting a nightmare.
Every incident of policing that involves potential misuse of force by officers must be addressed and investigated individually. Wrongdoers should be punished. Much of public knowledge of what happened in Minneapolis is limited at this point to the video, posted to Facebook. The public doesn’t know everything that happened before the camera switched on. Details are emerging.
The broader concern raised by this case is why egregious betrayals of trust by police officers continue to happen regularly, despite growing public awareness and intolerance. Floyd was suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit bill at a corner grocery store. He was unarmed.
Chicago’s policing has been stained by a record of excessive force allegations, much of it against minority residents. From 2007 to 2015, a supposedly independent review agency that investigated nearly 400 cases of civilians shot by Chicago police cleared the officers in all but two cases. All but two. Then an investigator with that agency, the Independent Police Review Authority, became a whistleblower, alleging his supervisor pressured him to change report conclusions to favour outcomes for police.
Since 2004, City Hall has paid more than $700mn to settle police misconduct lawsuits. Money isn’t the only cost. Many community members don’t trust the police, so they aren’t eager to co-operate with investigations.
As a result, Chicago’s plague of gun violence is likely worse than it would be if residents considered themselves partners with CPD. Chicago’s crime-solving rate for homicides is abysmally low compared with other big cities. What will it take stop the abuses? – Tribune News Service
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