Saturday, June 6, 2020

Almost Nine Minutes: did it trigger a transformational change in our approach to social justice

 Almost 9 minutes is a very long time. Try sitting still for that long. Try thinking about one thing for that long. Try holding your breath for that long. You can’t do it. How many of us have watched somebody die? How many of us have watched somebody die for almost 9 minutes?  How many of us have watched somebody die for almost 9 minutes when it could have been stopped or prevented?  Because of what happened to George Floyd, most of us have.

Beyond seeing his murder over and over, beyond being shocked, three things really scare me, frighten me —  the casual state and persistence of the murderer, the indifference of the murderer’s colleagues, and the limited actions by  civilians present.  The only explanation that I can come up with is related to accountability or rather the lack of it. The murderer thought he would face minimal consequences. His colleagues feared his reaction more then any consequence, if they had intervened.  The civilians that witnessed the murder live, feared the police.

The 11 days of peaceful protest comprised of people from all walks of life, all ages, all races, and all backgrounds, the 11 days of coverage on social media and television, and the 11 days of  commentary, tell us that we are at a  place where we have never before been. In spite of the pandemic, we all feel the need to do something substantial, sustainable, and meaningful to ensure that African Americans no longer fear the police and no longer fear the rest of us because we question the acts of African Americans. How do we take away their fears?

First, we need to understand the fear of African Americans.  I think we do now. Second, we need to immediately listen well, respect, and show it to everyone through our interactions. Third, we need to intervene immediately when we see a life threatened, even if we can only handle a 911 call in addition to videoing the event. Fourth, we need to vigorously instill these proactive behaviors in children. Fifth,  we demand new ways in which to screen candidates for police academies; demand swift enforcement of law against police who violate it; apply swift clear, unequivocal standards to any police officer who allows a colleague to violate the law; and install strong civilian oversight of policing policies, training, and interventions.

 The change that we thirst for at this moment requires each of us to commit to being on guard, speaking up, intervening when necessary, and protecting the rights of African Americans. If elected and appointed officials do not help us do this, then they need to be replaced.

There are many things we need to change and we need to work on all of them, but the first is to change the culture in police departments. Murder is murder. Letting it happen cannot be tolerated. We have an opportunity to change America so that African American mothers and fathers no longer have to explain to their children how to explicitly behave to save their lives in the presence of police. We need to act now. We must act now to bring true harmony to our country. We have a long road ahead of us. We must start new, frank conversations. Solutions are out there, we just need to support and implement them. Putting police departments who are unaccountable on notice is the first step.

Thank you,

Pat Morrissey