by Frances Edstrom, columnist
With talk of defunding and dismantling police departments all over the country, and locally, the School Board discussing whether to sever ties with the police department, it might be time to take a step back in order to get to the core of the problem.
Any citizen who saw or heard about the incident in Minneapolis on May 25, in which a police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck even as he died, had to have been stunned and distressed at how cavalierly one man can take another’s life.
We already knew that Black people in this country have a different history with the police than whites. The protests that followed the killing of Floyd reinforced that knowledge powerfully.
It’s not my place as a columnist to suggest a solution to this long history of inequality and injustice, but to point out why it is allowed to happen.
After the Floyd death, the cry began in Minneapolis to defund or dismantle the police department. City Council members called the death a “huge wake-up call,” and claimed that their reform efforts, including new police leadership, had failed.
The press began running articles claiming that the police unions had become too strong, and that police misconduct was allowed to slide, and bad officers were allowed to remain on the force because of the union.
Let’s assume that the police union had, indeed, become too strong. Let’s look at why that happened. It is management’s role to negotiate with labor unions. That’s the case in government as well as in private industry. The School Board negotiates with the teachers union, the City Council negotiates with the police and fire unions, among others.
To call the Floyd death and the ensuing protests a “huge wake-up call,” when you have been sitting at the negotiating table with the police union for many years, is cavalier and would be laughable if it weren’t so dishonest.
We are going to have to think harder about which candidates we put into office if we are to change the way society works. We are going to have to begin to hear that such disingenuous language as “huge wake-up call” and “bold statements” and “putting community voices front and center,” as was heard from the Minneapolis City Council, is nothing but empty rhetoric.
Vote for the person with a proven plan, not a platitude. Too often we fall for slogans, political correctness, and rousing speechifying, instead of a humane and intelligent platform.
It’s our fault, all of us, that police brutality continues to exist, even if it manifests itself in only a small percentage of police officers. We must vote for people who will demand benevolent and just government. For a democracy to work, its citizens must be knowledgeable and committed, and its leaders intelligent and prudent. That’s where we failed George Floyd.