As demonstrators took to the streets in cities across the nation to decry police brutality in the wake of the ruthless killing of yet another unarmed black man by a white police officer, law enforcement throughout the country again and again reacted with violence.
They used tear gas, Tasers, rubber bullets, police vehicles and their fists against people posing little to no threat — repeatedly proving the protesters’ painful point. Dozens of incidents were caught on citizen cameras and posted on social media, then curated by news sites including The Verge and TMZ.
In Atlanta, officers smashed a car window and yanked two college students stuck in protester traffic out of their vehicle, Tasing them in the process.
In Austin, police used “less lethal” ammunition to shoot a teenage boy in the forehead; a man in his 20s, who was recording on his phone; and a pregnant woman — in her abdomen.
In Los Angeles, an officer drove a police SUV into a small group of protesters, pinning one man’s foot beneath a tire before reversing.
In Louisville, police fired pepper balls at a reporter while she was on air — “I am getting shot,” she screamed — and confiscated jugs of water and milk that had been left out to treat protesters who had been pepper sprayed.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota State Patrol officers fired tear gas at reporters and photographers “at point blank range” after the journalists identified themselves, and other security forces fired paint canisters at residents watching from their front porch.
In New York in separate incidents, an officer pulled down the face mask of a young man protesting with his hands up in the air, and pepper sprayed him; an officer threw a young woman to the ground immediately after telling her to get out of the street; an officer driving a police department SUV rammed into a barricade, sending protesters flying; and yet another officer opened the passenger door on his moving police car to slam a protester standing in the street as the car passed.
In Seattle, a police officer Maced a little girl.
And at the White House, soldiers dispersed protesters with tear gas and flash grenades, then flew military helicopters overhead — so low that it created a tornado of dust and dirt around demonstrators. This was all so the president could come out of his bunker to stroll across the street for a 17-minute photo shoot in front of St. John’s Church holding a Bible he clearly never cracked.
Among those sprayed with tear gas in Lafayette Square outside the White House was a visiting priest attending to the church; the woman was blasted as she tried to usher others to safety. The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Mariann E. Budde, was outraged.
“We need a president who can unify and heal,” she told The New York Times. "He has done the opposite of that, and we are left to pick up the pieces.”
The president had earlier said protesters could be shot and set upon by the “most vicious dogs and most ominous weapons” — or the U.S. military. But who needs troops? The militarization of the nation’s police forces has been on full display of late.
So much for “keeping the peace” or protecting and serving. So much for de-escalation. In many cases, it was the actions of police that escalated the tension and unleashed the violence. Did some protesters behave badly? Did others loot and destroy?
The point is that police are supposed to be better behaved than the people they police. They’re not supposed to respond to a call, claiming that a 46-year-old man may have used a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes from a deli, by pinning the suspect to the ground and kneeling on his neck until the very life of him is squeezed out.
“Mama!” George Floyd called out, facedown in the street, as he died. “I’m through.”
The four officers who killed George Floyd on May 25 — the kneeler, Derek Chauvin, certainly, but also the other three who helped pin him down and didn’t lift so much as a finger to help him — have all been fired for valuing human life, black life, so little. And Mr. Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges.
But what about all the other officers behaving cruelly, if not criminally, this past week? The Atlanta officers who Tasered the students lost their jobs, but it’s a safe bet the other officers will never face any kind of reckoning — until they too become a Derek Chauvin.
There’s a narrative that police like to put forward about the issue not being one of racism and plain old lawless brutality, but instead a problem of “bad apples” — wayward officers acting outside the scope of the norm. If that’s the case, there appear to bad apples on every force in every city in the country.
Sure there are “good eggs,” as well, to stick with the food metaphor — officers like Lt. Peter Heron in Baltimore, who read aloud the names of police brutality victims to calm a crowd outside police headquarters Saturday, or the handful of officers who took a knee outside City Hall on Monday, in solidarity with demonstrators. But we’re not going to congratulate you for recognizing others’ humanity. That’s like patting a dad on the back for parenting his kids. It’s what’s expected. It’s the job.
And it seems that for all the good ones, there’s still an officer like the one who cold-cocked a woman downtown Friday. She was herself violent, but could have been apprehended without being knocked out.
We get that it’s a tough line of work and snap decisions made among chaos are often visceral. But there’s a pattern here that can’t be denied. So here’s a suggestion for police: Turn on each other. Don’t stand by as that bad apple baloney plays out; turn that officer in — speak up and speak out. Don’t let him bring down your good name.
It’s time for the police to police themselves.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.