Dealing with the Aftermath of George Floyd’s Death

I can't breath

Mr. Floyd’s death sent shockwaves around the country, and around the world, in a way not seen since Watts, Bloody Sunday, Detroit, the University of Mississippi, and other violent civil rights protests in the 1960s.

What this shows us is that something is clearly wrong in America. Before we react, it’s important to take a step back and consider the best kind of change.

Understanding the Anger

Other recent controversial slayings, such as Michael Brown in Missouri in 2014, Philando Castile in Minnesota in 2016, Eric Garner in New York in 2014 and several others produced considerable anger. Each of these deaths involved a police officer using prolonged excessive force.

Coronavirus lockdowns, while necessary, disproportionately affected minorities. The additional hardships of unemployment and homelessness caused by the pandemic have also led to increased frustrations in most communities.

The criminal justice system still unevenly affects minorities. Nationally, black inmates constitute about a third of prison inmates, yet they make up about a tenth of the population. Closer to home, the NYPD has recently arrested forty individuals for violating COVID-19 social distancing requirements. Thirty-five of those arrested were black.

The disproportionate nature of this affliction against minorities is disturbing and a meaningful remedy is necessary.

The Current and Future Role of Police Officers

Floyd’s death served as another example of the systematic use of excessive force on minorities that has been the standard operating procedure in our country. Our legal system has continually upheld this use of excessive force, which has played a major role in creating the current combative atmosphere between minorities and police officers.

Floyd’s death stirred many different reactions. For some, it opened their eyes to how little progress our country has made over the years. For others it was yet another injustice that served as a call to action.

Police officer approval ratings were already below 50 percent, and Floyd’s murder accelerated this downward trend. Additionally, almost 80 percent of Americans said the anger over Floyd’s death was either fully justified or partially justified.

Given the current situation, what will police forces of the future look like? And what should they look like?

One major factor that is necessary for police officers to successfully police neighborhoods is that there needs to be mutual respect between officers and the community they serve. The current atmosphere is one that is led by fear on both sides, which results in high energy combative interactions.

In confrontational situations it is important to appreciate opposing concerns. Police officers now believe they have targets on their backs, stemming from the backlash of the arrest of the officers charged in George Floyd’s death. At the same time there is widespread concern from community members across the nation that police brutality of this nature will recur and, in non-publicized cases, will continue to go unpunished. The truth of the matter is that this is not a minority issue or a nonwhite issue, but it is a human issue. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” as famously quoted by Martin Luther King Jr., and this still resounds true today. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.

Where Do We Go From Here?

There are some concrete things we, as attorneys and community leaders, can and should do to improve this situation. As community leaders, it is important that we begin having open and honest conversations. In order for lasting reform to occur we need to have conversations that may be uncomfortable, but that will result in a deeper understanding as to what led to the current atmosphere in our country. When we are equipped with information and perspective the actions that we take will be most impactful.

Better officer training is absolutely essential. National or statewide standards, especially in areas like relationships with the community, learning how to properly de-escalate a potentially violent situation and responding to stressful situations with minimal harm or loss of life is paramount. These could go a long way to remedying the problem. There are also calls for officers to stop using deadly force and start using less deadly means to subdue suspects. In many cases, unarmed black men have been shot by officers not once or twice, but numerous times.

Better oversight might help as well. As expected, the law enforcement community hasslow to embrace body cameras and other technological oversight. This must change. Additionally, Congress should clarify the laws allowing citizens to video police officers as they carry out their official duties. This will help to preserve evidence as well as hopefully deter police brutality.

At Napoli Shkolnik, these lobbying efforts are part of our overall commitment to our community and your civil rights. That is a commitment we take very seriously.

In the midst of all the anger and sadness, there are some hopeful signs. Police officers and other emergency responders have joined forces with Floyd protestors, at least in many areas.

Through unity and effective communication, we can certainly make things better. The experienced civil rights attorneys  at Napoli Shkolnik PLLC are here to help you and your family.