The May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis has sparked protests in cities across the country, including several in the Rio Grande Valley, as thousands have taken to the streets to protest what most consider an unnecessary and extreme use of police force.
Most demonstrations have been peaceful even if atmospheres at some have been tense and some of the initial protests devolved into rioting, violence and looting. It was a collective catharsis — an explosive release of anger and frustration by those who believe too many ethnic minorities such as Floyd have died at the hands of police, including some who were unarmed and either not resisting arrest or already under the officers’ control.
Perhaps the rioters’ defiance of the law was a message that those who represent the law no longer held the protesters’ respect.
Such actions, however, are counterproductive; they attack and perhaps even destroy the livelihood, and lives, of their own neighbors who might actually support their position. Meanwhile, those actions can reinforce the opinions of those who see the protesters as lawless mobs that must be controlled, by force if necessary.
Certainly, something must be done; too many people are dying at the hands of those entrusted with keeping the peace. Our experience has shown that most law enforcers are committed to that goal, and strive daily to protect their community’s safety and property. Unfortunately, however, a few rogue officers, perhaps some who have buckled under the stress of the job, stain the majority who perform an honorable, and necessary, function in our society.
Fortunately, many community leaders appear to be getting the message. Public officials, including some police chiefs and sheriffs, have joined the demonstrations and pledged to erase any distrust and acrimony between the public and their officers.
Such overtures deserve praise, and a similar response from the public.
The events of the past two weeks should inspire a nationwide resolve to reverse the deterioration of trust between law enforcement and the public. Let the people accept the promises of improvement, and do what they can to make it happen.
That support can help the citizenry hold their police, and the officials who empanel them, accountable. All reports of police abuse should be investigated fully and objectively, and if changes are needed then they must be made quickly.
Community support is vital to effective law enforcement. Residents and officials everywhere, not just in cities where police violence has occurred, should review the relationship between the public and their protectors, to help reduce the chance that such tragedies occur again.
National Night Out — the annual day that seeks to strengthen the public-police bonds — occurs in August in most U.S. cities. In addition to the traditional functions at city parks, officials should consider holding forums to discuss safety issues, recruit neighborhood watch groups and perhaps empanel committees, with public and police members, to evaluate the relationship and seek ways to improve it.
Constructive work often takes no more effort than destruction; public commitments to improving the relationship between residents and those who are sworn to protect them could help foster better cooperation — and save lives.