Updated: A Conversation We Need About Police Departments, Starting in Minneapolis

It is sad and tragic that it has taken the death of a man in police custody, due to gross negligence, to have a national conversation about why things like that happen. The officer involved and the three officers that looked on while it happened have all been charged with crimes and that is as it should be. Yes, they are innocent until proven guilty but video footage is hard to dispute. So may the legal system play out as it should and may they get everything that justice deserves.

That has been followed by two weeks of daily protests around the country. Unfortunately, many of those protests have turned violent. There is evidence that a good deal of that violence has been by groups, often not local to the city in which the protests have happened, who have been trying to use protests as a spark to incite violence for whatever demented agenda they may have.

Unfortunately, what that often leads to the in aftermath is very emotional reactions in the moment. And because we tend to live in this ‘either or’ society, where it seems everyone thinks you have to choose ‘a side’ then the much needed thoughtful dialog gets lost.

One of the topics that we, as a country and within some communities specifically, should think about is the culture among some of our police departments. First of all, let me strongly say that we need strong law enforcement. Overwhelmingly, they do a good job, they serve in difficult situations and are asked sometimes to make decisions, literally, on life and death within seconds. They deserve special consideration and thanks. However, as a result, they should also be held to a higher standard.

To start, let’s examine the Minneapolis Police Department. We have all seen the video or read the reports of the officer that killed George Floyd. And not in any way to minimize his death but it is true, in every organization there are people who aren’t up to standard and do not represent the whole. But let’s try to take a serious look at what’s happened over the last two weeks and see if there are things that indicate a bigger concern.

There was another video—and video evidence is tough to dispute-where tens of police officers dressed in fatigues were following an armored vehicle while walking down a street. The street was calm, so presumably they had assembled and were walking to where the protesting or violent riots were happening. The cell phone video was taken by a family that was sitting on their front porch as the assembled police walked by. The police were heard to call out for the people to go inside. Several more officers yelled for the people to go inside, then seconds later at least two of the officers turned, pointed rifles and fired at the family sitting on the porch (presumably they fired rubber bullets as all you could see were welts from being hit). These people were literally sitting on their front porch, there was no threat or any indication of anything going on, but the police fired on the people, for reasons that are hard to understand to say the least.

In another, less serious, incident a police officer arrested a reporter and camera crew while they were reporting live, on the air. Apparently, the reason was that they were in an area where they should not have been and you can hear another officer in the background saying that they could just make them move and they didn’t need to be arrested. Now, we know that the media think they can do pretty much anything they want and have a pretty high opinion of themselves, especially the national media. But was it really necessary to arrest them or could they have just forced them to move?

These incidents are just examples but all happened within a few days of each other. With the national spotlight on the Minneapolis Police Dept., with protests and riots breaking out all over the country, and indeed the world, because of what one of their officers did, you would think they would know that they are under a lot of scrutiny. You would think they would have been given instructions to err on the side of patience and understanding, and to work with the community in this time of increased tension. But that sure doesn’t seem to be the case. They seem oblivious to what is going on in the world around them, to say the least.

And that is the problem. It seems clear that there is a culture within the Minneapolis Police Dept. that has a bias toward using excessive force from the first encounter. Force isn’t used as a last resort, but a first option to establish dominance.

I don’t know if the officer who killed George Floyd did it because of the color of Floyd’s skin. But I do know that he erred on the side of excessive force. And I do know that three other officers stood by and let him kill George Floyd. And other officers fired on people sitting on their own front porch on a street where nothing unusual was happening. And so I am now convinced there is a culture problem within the Minneapolis Police Dept.:  a culture that says “prove how tough you are first’ instead of “use force as a last resort and then only the minimum force necessary to be safe”.

A minor thing, but it starts with a simple observation or question:  why do they have enough fatigue uniforms to deck out so many people? Fatigues are worn by the military, who expect to go into battle and expect to need camouflage, not by police who are working in the community. Do they think of themselves as a military occupation force, or as people who are there to ‘protect and serve’?

And I’m sure that the Minneapolis police force is not alone. I’m also equally sure that it doesn’t characterize police everywhere, or entire departments around the country. Let that message be clear, as well. But what the Minneapolis police force has shown, when they know they are being watched closely, shows that they don’t care and that they don’t seem to understand. And that’s a change of mindset that we should start working on tomorrow.

UPDATE:

News now has come out, along with video, that the Minneapolis Police Dept. went around slashing tires of cars anywhere in the vicinity of downtown. According to the Department, it was to prevent anyone from driving into a crowd.

They didn’t  just deflate the tires (which would have the same effect), and they didn’t pick certain cars that they had an indication might be used, they just picked cars and started slashing tires. Cars that were parked in parking lots, cars that we blocks away from any protests and cars of people that had nothing to do with the protests. The Minneapolis PD destroyed property of random people because….well, because they might drive their cars near where the protests were.

All of these examples make it clear that the Minneapolis PD is out of the control. The culture in the organization is dangerous. That does not mean the city does not need a police department but it does mean the leadership of the Department should be removed immediately, as a start in restoring a culture of ‘protect and serve’.

 

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