During the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, there were reminders that our nation's current system of policing and public safety needs to be reimagined. We heard stories, and some of you saw video evidence of, Black and Latiné people being fatally shot by the police.
The day the trial began, we learned about 13-year-old Adam Toledo who was shot and killed by Chicago Police Officer Eric Stillman. Notably, the Chicago Police Department covered up the full story of his murder and had to retract some of their original story after contradictory bodycam footage was released.
During the Chauvin trial, we learned about 20-year old Daunte Wright who was pulled over in a routine traffic stop 12 or so miles away from the trial by Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter. In what normally results in a warning or a ticket, this particular stop ended in Daunte’s murder. His one-year-old son will now grow up without a father. And, in a tragic small world turn of events, we learned that Daunte was a former student of George Floyd’s girlfriend.
On April 20th, the trial ended with the jury finding Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. The jury found the former officer guilty of a murder that he was captured on video committing.
Just before the announcement of the verdict, in Columbus, Ohio, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant called the police after feeling threatened by other girls at her home. Thirteen minutes after Chauvin's guilty verdict was announced, and the brief wave of police accountability washed over the nation, Officer Nicholas Reardon arrived at a chaotic scene and responded, not with proven de-escalation techniques, but instead, responded with 4 shots into Ma’Khia’s chest.
Our implicit biases will lead most of us to question the actions of those who were murdered by police. What did THEY do?
I invite all of us, instead, to take a human-centered view that is often lost when we talk about policing and public safety. In other words: what does it mean to value human life above all else?
I’m in a Community-of-Practice led by Zen priest and movement strategist Norma Wong, and last week she offered a reflection that while Chauvin’s defense attorney argued that George Floyd died because his heart was enlarged, the real reason that George Floyd died was that Derek Chauvin’s heart was too small.
A small heart, or a lack of empathy for another human, and a devaluing of human life, means that murder-by-police is happening at a frequency that we should all be interrogating.
This act of interrogation is what I invite us all to do as we re-imagine what public safety SHOULD look like.
To me, re-imagining public safety and policing means that we need to value human life, and that murdering people in the streets is not an acceptable first response.
To achieve our collective goal of community wellbeing and community safety will require our expansive imagination.
As does our need to re-imagine who are the guardians of community wellbeing and public safety are. Who are the guardians that keep communities safe? And who should they be? How did we keep each other safe and well and whole before the system of policing was invented to maintain the system of American Slavery?
I’ll say it here, clear, and unabashedly:
We have to stop normalizing that shooting-to-kill is a proper response to social challenges.
We have to normalize that the first response to turmoil in our communities should not be use-of-lethal-force.
We have to normalize that police stops should end in murder. And we have to question the motives behind the stops, too.
Community safety will never be achieved with state-sanctioned violence.
I’ve been working with community leaders and the County of Los Angeles since the beginning of 2021 around this central premise of re-imagination through the Measure J "Re-Imagine" LA effort. The conversations we are having are around what it means to center humanity in public safety, community well-being, policing, and the "criminal justice system". We're having budget conversations around what investments are needed to promote community well-being and to help every individual thrive.
Surely, our reimagination must extend to saving lives and ending extrajudicial murders.
The Guardian wrote a story on Tuesday, April 27 2021 about an International Commission that has indicted the United States for systemic racist police violence against people of African descent.
I encourage you to read the Guardian article for a synopsis of the Commission’s report, linked here. You can also read the 188-page report created by the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States, linked here.