A Better Future

And why justice just isn’t enough.

George Floyd was killed on May 25th. Since then, we’ve discussed, debated, and educated ourselves. We’ve had protests, riots, and looting, and I’ve addressed all of those in my previous two articles. We’ve engaged with the topic of racism and injustice on a scale we haven’t seen since the 1960s. However, once #GeorgeFloyd and #BlackLivesMatter stop trending, and we grow tired of protesting, we can’t stop the work of improving our country. Protests were only the beginning. Now begins the work of enacting long-term legislative change.

We Must Expect More From Our Politicians

I ask that you watch Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City speak in this video from 10:29 to 15:40. At 11:19 he provides actual steps he is taking to ensure this doesn’t happen again, at least in his city and state. His suggestions include:

  • Repealing Section 50-A of NY State Law, which would increase transparency in police discipline. 50-A “makes all personnel records used to evaluate performance towards continued employment or promotion” for police officers, firefighters and correction officers “confidential and not subject to inspection or review” except by court order.
  • Enacting legislation that would protect officers’ identities in their personal lives, such as shielding their home addresses. Many officers fear that increased transparency would render them or their families vulnerable, so we need to find an appropriate compromise that will discipline the evil people who have infiltrated the police force while protecting the good officers.
  • A faster disciplinary process, with an immediate investigation and immediate consequences.
  • Removing officers from work on the street if they are found to be unfit to serve their community.

His address was on June 1st. On June 9th, New York State repealed section 50-A. This was an immediate response to a call to action, one that attempted to resolve an issue fairly and quickly. This sort of response is what we need to expect from our elected officials and public servants at all levels. If we want real, systematic change, we need to hold our elected officials accountable for our safety and well-being, and to demand they reify these ideas of reform that have been promised for years.

Consider Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd. During his 19-year career, Chauvin had 18 complaints filed against him, two of which received reprimand.

Some of the complaints involving Chauvin are difficult to judge, because the details are not revealed and only his side is presented, so it is impossible to form an unbiased opinion. However, his encounter in 2008 with Ira Latrell Toles is very telling:

“Chauvin responded to a report of domestic abuse at a couple’s home, forced his way into a bathroom where Ira Latrell Toles was hiding, and when Toles reached for his gun, shot him twice in the stomach, the Pioneer Press reported at the time. Toles survived and was accused of felony obstruction.

Toles, 33, told the Daily Beast this week that Chauvin broke down the bathroom door and began hitting him. He said he fought back in self-defense. Toles said he ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, and still feels pain from the wounds.”

If, after this, Chauvin had been appropriately disciplined and a precedent had been set, George Floyd might still be alive today. With police reform, George Floyd would have faced the appropriate legal consequences for knowingly, or unknowingly, using a counterfeit 20 dollar bill — consequences which aren’t the death penalty.

What We Can Do

We can’t just ask for more body cameras. By themselves, they’re ineffective as deterrents against officers who believe they’re doing the right thing when they aren’t. Those who are good will continue to uphold the law, those who might be tempted but know that excessive force is wrong will be deterred, but those who believe their use of force is justified will continue the violence on and off camera. Without the appropriate laws in place, it takes national headlines and bystander videos going viral to persecute these murderers.

We can’t just demand justice for George Floyd’s death. Punishing Derek Chauvin and the complicit officers who stood by is appropriate, but clearly not a significant deterrent. If a video of Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd hadn’t gone viral, not only would he not have been arrested but he would still be employed as a Minneapolis police officer today.

Please take a look at this list of executions by police from 2014 till now. Many of these deaths were recorded, yet have faded from public memory. Again, the problem stems from the fact that the officers thought their force or action was appropriate, and that they wouldn’t be punished. We need a system that has zero tolerance for this behavior, and doesn’t wait until someone is killed on a viral video to discipline an officer.

So what immediate, effective steps can we take?

  1. Call and write to your representatives. Demand the following, from this list published by the NAACP:
  • A zero-tolerance policy in penalizing and prosecuting police misconduct.
  • The Use of Force Continuum for any police department, with a minimum of six steps, and with clear rules of escalation.
  • An Open Record Act which ensures that officer misconduct information and disciplinary histories are not shielded from the public.
  • Implementation of Citizen’s Review Boards in municipalities to hold police departments accountable and build public confidence.

2. Use tools such Email For BLM to auto-generate an email to your representatives.

3. Donate to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

4. Have an opinion. Engage in conversations with your friends and family about preventing further deaths, about new legislation, about restructuring law enforcement. Don’t be afraid to get a little uncomfortable. Speak with people you think might disagree with you. In the long term, these conversations will have the greatest impact.

5. Don’t just reach out to your black friends and ask them how they’re doing. Tell them that you’re interested in hearing their experience, not only with police but with life in general. Learn how similar or dissimilar your lives are, and discuss ways in which you can use your voice, your talents,and your resources to help others who may not look like you.

6. Inform yourself and vote. Most people don’t vote at a local level, but that’s exactly where your vote has the most impact. We need to not just be voting in November for our President, but throughout the year at every level, for our City Councils, for our Mayors, for our county Sheriffs, and for our Governors. If you don’t know when these elections are, use this website and this website to find out, and mark them on your calendar. Lobby your politicians to make voting days paid holidays, because voting should be just as sacrosanct as Thanksgiving. Lobby your politicians to put limits on campaign spending for fairer representation. We can and should protest now, but in a week, in a month, in a year, is when our persistence will matter. We need to elect people who will represent and defend all Americans.

We need to stop being reactionary. We can’t wait for the next time someone is murdered. We need immediate and ongoing action to end the cycle of violence. It’s time to make real change.

This is part three of a three-part piece. Here are parts one and two:

(This is my personal opinion and doesn’t necessarily reflect that of my employer, university, or organizations with which I’m involved).

Computer Science student at Brown University, hometown Boston.