Herald editorial: Don’t let violence drown out legitimate calls for police reform
For the past three months, it felt as if we were in suspended animation — a global pause as we worked together to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In the past week, the brakes were taken off and we were flung forward at warp speed into a series of tragic events culminating in the ongoing protests in the aftermath of the avoidable death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
We watched as many of the protests devolved into violence from all sides — some from protesters and some from the police who appeared to use far more force than was necessary to restore order. At the same time, we were heartened by the hundreds of thousands who peacefully turned out across the country — including in Ogden and Provo — to make their voices heard.
While some are focusing on the images of violence, we must not ignore what these protesters are calling for. When it comes down to it, they are calling for nothing more than for America to truly live up to its ideals.
One recent failure to live up to those ideals was the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American father of two girls. One of the most concerning things about the incident is that the response by Minneapolis and park police officers to reports of a person passing a counterfeit $20 bill seemed so perfunctory and run of the mill — up until police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. It was difficult to watch the clearly subdued Floyd cry out he couldn’t breathe as bystanders beseeched the officer to ease up.
While we don’t know all of the events that led to Floyd being on the ground with Chauvin at his neck, most people, including police agencies across the country, could see that Floyd’s death was a great injustice. Unfortunately, it is just the latest in a long series of actions by departments across the country that were given tremendous powers as part of their mission to protect the public.
Floyd’s death stands in stark contrast with what we should want police departments and their officers to be. There should be consensus that we need to be better than those four police officers and the department they represented on that day.
It is true that some protesters call for dismantling the entire police infrastructure and use inflammatory language like comparing all cops to illegitimate children. However, many more are calling for reforming police departments to be directly accountable to all the citizens that they ostensibly protect.
We should all be able to agree that the police are supposed to serve and protect the entire public. We should also be able to agree that the public has the right to ensure that agencies and their officers are fulfilling this mission without abusing their powers granted to them by the public. There should also be consequences whenever agencies and officers have lapsed in their duties.
We wholeheartedly and gratefully acknowledge that officers make tremendous sacrifices in service to others. Last week’s death of Ogden officer Nate Lyday during a domestic violence call underscores that point.
There are also going to be matters of life and death where an officer may have no choice but to take a life.
However, there are a relatively high number of officer-caused deaths every year. If people are suspected of breaking a law, they must face justice in the courts with juries of their peers, not at the end of an officer’s gun.
We are at a crucial stage. Either we can continue unleashing our anger and passions through violence, or we can marshal our energies to work toward change.
Our republic was set up so that momentary passions wouldn’t lead to drastic change and turmoil. This is generally a good thing, but it also means that constant pressure is necessary to bring about change. Those pushing for reform must work together to plant the seeds for change in their communities and at all levels of government.