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Bel Air’s message on George Floyd’s death and resulting protests misses the mark [Commentary]

The statement was not wrong. George Floyd’s death was obviously sickening to most people. His death will certainly further the wedge between our nation’s police and the communities they serve. That wedge will, without a doubt, make it more difficult for them to effectively perform their duties. The Bel Air Police department has made strides toward improving how they interact with people of color. I agree that the job of the police is far harder during periods of civil unrest; much more so when the actions of the police are not trusted by the citizens they are sworn to protect. Lastly, it goes without saying that it is up to Bel Air’s public officials and our citizens to hold themselves and our leaders accountable for their actions.

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Everything said is true, and none of it was in response to a question that was asked.

At no point did it say that the officers who murdered George Floyd were wrong. At no point did it call it murder. At no point did it address how widespread the issue of police brutality against the Black community is. At no point did it address the fear, anger, sadness, or maybe just simple resignation that yet another Black man had been murdered by the police.

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At no point was it wrong, but the response did not give me, a white man, any confidence this issue was discussed with any of Bel Air’s citizens that may have been emotionally or mentally impacted by the actions of those officers.

It never addressed that a Black man was murdered over the possible use of a counterfeit $20 bill. It never addressed that a police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck, slowly strangling him to death over a period of minutes. It never addressed how no one helped him even as he cried out for his dead mother.

This is not the time to stay silent on injustices, and with regards to that, we are on the same page. However, it is also time to carefully consider your words and the implication that they have. Because what you say and how you say it carry with it a view into your focus.

Your words told me that the police have difficult jobs and that they keep us safe. Your words told me that the Bel Air Police Department has worked to improve themselves. Your words told me that they have done a good job of being respectful, non-violent, and welcoming. Your words told how proud you are of Bel Air’s police force.

Your words didn’t tell me anything about conversations you have had with the protesters or with Bel Air’s Black community. If I am charitable, the first sentence, one out of 16, is the only one that feels like it is addressed to someone that would be sad or upset or angry about Mr. Floyd’s death. The rest is just praise for your police force and a quick thank you to the protesters for remaining peaceful.

I say this without malice. What your words told me is that you love your police force and that in this moment you barely gave a consideration to the citizens of your Black community.

Don’t get me wrong. I, too, am thankful for the level of work that the Bel Air Police Department has put into improving themselves. I am one of those people that is always thankful when someone is putting in any work to improve themselves, but I am a white man. I am prone to be charitable to the police, but even I am beginning to think twice about calling the police for help. I do not want blood on my hands.

I don’t want my minor problem to lead to the next George Floyd or Philando Castile or Freddie Gray. I’d rather be robbed than have that blood on my hands. I’d rather be mugged than have a mother have to lower her son or daughter into the ground. I’d rather have a poor night sleep than to have my noise complaint end with a person dead, the national news, and me trying to explain to a grieving family that I just wanted someone to turn down the music.

So, I appreciate the efforts of the Bel Air Police Department, but until the police of this nation stop killing civilians, none of those steps will have been enough. There is no one-day class that will bring George Floyd back. There is no seminar that the Bel Air Police Department can attend that will help people feel safe when the police can shoot a man in the back as he flees. No community outreach, or kneeling with protesters, can remove that wedge; not when a no knock warrant can result in the death of a sleeping EMT and a man arrested for trying to protect himself and his now dead girlfriend.

The people of this nation have asked our police to stop killing Black people, and as you are aware, that hasn’t happened. So while the police of this nation have put in some effort to address the problem, they have proven that those efforts have not been enough. They have proven that the bad apples will still kill and maim Black people and do so boldly while the cameras roll. Worse, they have proven that the so-called good apples will cling to the bad until the rot permeates through the whole batch.

Until the killings stop, until the police begin to excise their bad apples freely and voluntarily, every police department in this nation will, rightfully, carry the same reputation and rot as the worst in our nation.

George Floyd’s death (one among countless) is yet another failing of every police officer in this nation; because, as you so rightly put it, “the ability of the police to effectively perform their duties is dependent upon the public trusting in their actions and behavior and maintaining a mutual respect with the public.”

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Black lives matter.

STEPHEN GRAHAM LOCK

Abingdon

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