(I wrote this for the Urban News in September 2020.)
Tens of thousands of Americans recently descended onto Washington DC to reenact the March on Washington in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The purpose of this march was to rekindle the feeling and the momentum that were present back in 1963. While George Floyd May 25th death while being detained by the Minneapolis police may have been the catalyst that started the protests around the country, he has been far from the only person of color to die in police custody. Jacob Blake is the latest in a long line of men of color who get detained by the police for some minor reason (or none) and somehow end up getting shot.
In Blake’s case, like Floyd’s, we have an infamous video. The circumstances leading up to the video are unclear. Mr. Blake was trying to break up a domestic dispute between two women; the police were called; Jacob Blake, unarmed, is seen = walking to the driver-side door of a family-type van. He opens the door to get in—where his sons are waiting for him—and then gets shot seven times in the back. Thankfully, Jacob Blake is alive. Unfortunately, he is paralyzed.
We Need Action
Since the public reaction to George Floyd’s death began early this summer, we have had plenty of protests. We have protested in large cities and small communities. We have had moments of silence. We have also had thought-provoking, emotionally and mentally stimulating speeches. It seems to me, that the time for speeches is over. Now we need a plan to move forward.
Every city needs to establish an Office of Neighborhood Safety—a civilian-led office that works closely with the police department on decreasing violence and increasing safety and well-being in our communities.
Police departments need to be refocused on the core mission which is to promote safety in the community. (This is not DE-funding, but RE-allocating budgets.) Some police funding should be diverted to social services. Police officers should not respond to situations in which someone with mental illness is exhibiting erratic behavior. Let a highly trained social workers attempt to defuse the situation before calling in the police.
All police shootings should be investigated by independent federal agencies and NOT local officials. (This will also require that our federal agencies, especially those under an Attorney General, be thoroughly depoliticized and returned to independence from the White House.) Our goal must be to keep everyone safe and have zero unarmed Americans shot by the police.
David Cornelius Smith
David Cornelius Smith was a 28-year-old gentleman who suffered from some mental issues. The police were called because he was acting erratically. A struggle ensued as the police tried to subdue him, including by tasing him five times—but were still unable to control him. The police finally wrestled Mr. Smith to the ground and pin him, face down. One police officer is on his legs. Another has his knee on Mr. Smith’s neck. After over four minutes, Mr. Smith is not moving. He is also not breathing. The Minneapolis police officers call for an ambulance and David Cornelius Smith dies in the hospital several days later.
This event occurred in September 2010. It involved the same Minneapolis police department that held down George Floyd 10 years later. Back then, there were promises of reform. There was also a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit paid out to Mr. Smith’s family. But still the behavior persists. Still nothing has changed. This is truly depressing.
Yet it is important for us to remember that change is hard. Police departments have been allowed to police our communities as they see fit for decades. We are asking for major reform. This will not come easy. This is a fight that we need to continue on the local, state, and federal levels.
Law and Order
In 1968, Richard Nixon ran a campaign based on “restoring Law and Order.” The country had just completed eight years of Democratic rule under John F. Kennedy (1961-62) and Lyndon Johnson (1963-68). Martin Luther King had been assassinated in April 1968. Bobby Kennedy—running against Johnson—was assassinated in June. Protests and riots broke out throughout the nation. This was against a backdrop of national introspection over the Vietnam War.
But things are vastly different in 2020. Donald Trump is trying to run his reelection campaign based on “law and order.” The idea that Trump—who has ignored the Constitution, bent and broken scores of laws, and run roughshod over Congress and even ignored Supreme Court rulings—can rebrand himself as someone who supports the military and the police, is somewhat ironic. It would almost be amusing if it weren’t so appalling.
Richard Nixon was the challenger in 1968. Donald Trump is the incumbent. Therefore, whatever disorder and lawlessness that exists sprang up under his presidency. Trump has proven time and time again that he does not believe that laws apply to him.
Donald Trump obstructed justice. In the Mueller report, they clearly outlined multiple times in which Donald Trump tried to influence the outcome of the investigation, he and his Attorney General, William Barr, told us that there was no collusion, but we also know that Paul Manafort gave campaign information to a Russian citizen (the US intelligence community believes that the Russian citizen is also a Russian spy). This simple act is in fact collusion.
We also know that Donald Trump solicited the president of Ukraine to help Trump win reelection. This is also against the law. Donald Trump got impeached for this action. Donald Trump just accepted the Republican nomination for president and held a campaign rally on the White House lawn. This is a clear violation of the Hatch act. This is against the law.
Many of the people that have surrounded Trump for the last 36 months have been arrested and thrown in jail for different violations of… the law. It seems a little far-fetched to say that you are the law and order president when you and your cronies are constantly breaking the law.