When the fight’s over, it’s over. No amount of respect for policing should ever excuse criminal cops.
My friends, I’m struggling this morning. I’ve struggled all week since the murder of George Floyd. At first I couldn’t even process the cold insensitivity I watched on the video. A public servant, entrusted to maintain law and order, completely indifferent to human life. I’ve watched that video multiple times, trying to figure out how to understand the actions of those public servants. I cannot imagine how traumatic this is for Black Americans to witness another Black man killed right before their eyes.
Every once in a while, a video comes along that is completely indefensible. Right now I cannot excuse is the deafening silence from my policing peers. Silence is complicity. Silence is consent. If we do not condemn wrongdoing publicly and loudly, we are lost. Our silence tells the world we’re okay with one of our peers calmly kneeling on a man’s neck for seven minutes and killing him under color of authority.
When the fight or resistance ends, it’s over. Period. And, no, we’re not going to get into adrenaline and all that as an excuse. It’s real in some cases, but that’s what your partners are for. That didn’t happen here. Also, an experienced professional should be able to draw some calming breaths and get control in much less than seven minutes. Let’s leave that there.
Here’s what happens in those horrific seven minutes. Three of these cops are on the man’s back, one calmly pressing his knee into his neck. There is no resistance because only the officers knee is pressing into his neck, he doesn’t use his hands, which means there is no struggle. The man begs for air, the officer calmly remains on his neck. The man makes a feeble attempt to rise—no doubt trying to survive, not resist. The officer remains on his neck. The man goes silent. The officer remains on his neck. The man goes limp. The officer calmly remains on his neck. The paramedic comes and checks his pulse. The cop calmly, callously, remains on his neck.
Not one of the other officers appears to register alarm or tell their fellow cop to get off his neck. Not one. If they do, the cop ignores it and calmly keeps kneeling on his neck.
Most of us have been there, subduing a person for whatever crime. When you are straddling a person’s body you can feel their movement, tension, shifting, and struggle beneath you. You feel the moment when the struggle stops. The movement ceases. And when that happens, you are the professional. You are supposed to stop as well. This is the part I cannot wrap my head around. When the fight is over, it’s over. When the human tells you they are in distress, it’s your job to summon help. When they stop fighting you, it’s your job to stop all force. When they stop breathing, it is your job to start life saving efforts.
There is no gray area here. That is the job. Prisoners in our custody are our responsibility. Yet, there are far too few voices from our side of the thin blue line calling for accountability. I’m struggling with why not. I’m struggling with how the vast majority of us have gone silent. I’m appalled that a fellow cop could calmly, callously, press his knee into the neck of a non-combative human, ignore his pleas for help, ignore his pleas for air, feel the moment when he goes limp, and keep kneeling on his neck without so much as a change in expression on his face.
I’m not okay with this. Those cops do not represent me. They do not represent the profession I belonged to for twenty-five years. They do not represent the humanity and courage of those good cops I was proud to serve beside. They, and those like them must be purged from our profession with impunity. This cannot stand. These horrors cannot continue.
Right now we need to ask ourselves who we are. Are we the heroes we want everyone to see us as or are we cowards? Why do we have the courage to run toward gunfire but not to tell our fellow cops to get the hell off a guy’s neck? Are we so invested in our membership in the brotherhood of the badge that we can’t call out bad behavior in our own house? Have we so convinced ourselves of our own infallibility that we cannot tolerate any insinuation that any one of us might be wrong? Do we believe that because the job is dangerous and any one of us might fall is a reason to never speak ill of another cop, even when they are unethical or even criminal?
My brothers and sisters in blue, we must stand against this. We must own the damage done by a long line of cops who did not deserve to wear your badge. We must reclaim our honor. We must stand for the rule of law. We must call out crimes under color of authority when we see them so that the citizens of our country know we care. Only then will we begin to heal. Only then will the bloodshed cease on all sides.
A fellow cop and dear friend told me through tears yesterday: African Americans are all screaming: We can’t breathe in America!
Riots are raging and cities are burning. The howl of pain from the unheard that Dr. King told us about fifty years ago. George Floyd was murdered under color of authority. We must not look away. We must own it and work to ensure it never happens again.