A Fight for Reform: Where the US Stands in its War Against Police Brutality
Last Tuesday marked a year since the murder of George Perry Floyd Jr.; a year since protests swept the nation and real conversations spanning from police brutality to the inherent racism within the United States began; a year since one man’s name was scratched into poster boards and shouted at rallies; and a year since the country woke up to the real black experience within the United States.
For the first time since the Black Lives Matter movement fell out of the media cycle in 2015, people were demanding change through mass demonstrations and online activism. The world watched as Americans flooded the streets, determined to unite even in the midst of a global pandemic that chipped away at our economy and the lives we’d lived prior to it.
Still, the cycle repeated. New names made headlines and were subsequently added to a longer list of victims to police violence. And just as with every movement, the anger remained, but the street presence faltered. Murals were drawn, streets were renamed, officers were arrested, but true change on the national level eluded the people once again. Justice was served, but justice for a single person wouldn’t stop the continued violence that plagued the lives of others. The nation couldn’t muster the same outrage time and time again for every new victim named.
So, after months of protests, of anger and international outrage, what has changed? How are officers perceived? How has the conversation shifted? And how do people feel when discussing the police system within the United States?
I know how I feel. Exhausted. Burned out. I, along with many of my peers, spent hours over the summer watching documentaries, reading the history, and sharing resources on social media. We had so suddenly awoken to the reality within the United States and we simply couldn’t afford to be ignorant anymore. At the time, educating ourselves was the only step we could take that felt like enough. But even so, we all watched as the subject fell, as the social media reposts dropped, and as the passion that had fueled so many protests faded.
Movements die not because people stop caring, but because people grow exhausted by the lack of real development. We have to be out there, on the streets, every day of every week of every month fighting for what we want and what we need, only to be given scraps of justice that barely feed the hunger for reform. After mass demonstrations, politicians finally directly acknowledge the issue, yes, but protesters know a few words won’t reverse the racism present in US policing. But real laws would. But, those real laws were never being passed or pushed. The strict, progressive reform that is needed was introduced back in February and was passed in the House of Representatives in March, but has yet to be brought up for a vote in the Senate.
Regardless, it must be said that even when movements waver, the individual outrage and fear felt by black Americans remains the same. Which is why when I asked Blake students how they felt about police officers after all that’s taken place the responses sounded very familiar. One senior, Elizabeth Laplante, paused a moment before answering the question: “As a black woman, anytime you see a police officer, it’s scary. That’s just the honest truth.It’s really difficult sometimes, and it’s frustrating to understand that if we can’t call the police when we’re in dire need, who are we going to call? Who’s going to be able to help you in this situation?”
It’s clear that since last year, not many things have changed. But as Laplante mentioned, one of the worst and most significant repercussions of police violence is the fact that members of minority groups have no one to turn to when they do need help. They’re backed against a wall, especially during real emergencies. What do you do when the number you’re meant to dial can so easily lead to more risk? There’s no way to tell what kind of officer will arrive at the scene or how they will respond. There’s no way for a person to know whether calling the police when they feel they need to is a good call. For the grocery store employee in Minneapolis who called 911 last year, it was not. US citizens should not be concerned about what kind of cop will arrive to help them, and that concern should not override their need to call for help. But it does. And the fact is that if people can’t call the police when they need them, and if it feels like doing so is taking a risk, then something is inherently wrong.
Moving on, the situation gets a thousand times worse when you think of the police response to the peaceful protests last year. Blake junior, Jonathan Myers, spoke passionately when the subject was brought up. He said, “Something has to change. Because you can’t come at peaceful protests with rubber bullets and all out violence when they’re just asking for peace and equality. To meet something so beautiful and constructive with violence is just… there’s nothing right about that response unless you actively support inequality and prejudice.” Police departments all across the country were recorded mishandling citizens and sweeping them out of public areas, even as they peacefully gathered to protest police brutality. It was the greatest paradox. The image of officers aggressively handling innocent civilians further emphasized how important it was for the people to demand change. Furthermore, as the outrage spiked, another slogan became increasingly popular: Defunding the Police.
When I asked Myers whether he supported the topic, he immediately nodded his head. He explained, “I believe that we need to start redirecting a lot of funds from military based things to somewhere else like education, domestic service, public services. I think we should be directing money towards helping people, instead of policing them. Especially minorities. This money should be going to places where it’s actually needed, instead of where the government wants it to be, especially after such a long period of trauma. I think we need to start building instead of destroying and that’s a step in the right direction.”
Last summer was filled with passion and determination and a wild hope for a better world and a better future. Many came out of it with a new sense of awareness and simply living in ignorance was no longer an option for many young people. This rising generation so clearly dreams of a world where racism does not dictate how people live, where all officers can be trusted to properly respond to emergencies, where politicians upheld their promises once they were elected. However, the society we’re currently living in is the exact opposite of that. There’s a sense of helplessness that comes with not knowing when or how things will get better, but it’s eclipsed by the disillusionment that’s being felt by so many. When will it end? Can we stop it? Or does history really only repeat itself? They say things like freedom and safety and contentment must be won over and over again, but in a day and age where the trend of fatal police shootings only seems to be increasing, is it even possible to win temporarily anymore?
This topic is so complex and nuanced that citizens and politicians alike tend to approach it with a weariness that hinders their ability to introduce real reform. But on the upside, the United States has taken a step forward in resolving this issue, albeit a small one, but a step nonetheless. It’s true, our national government hasn’t done much, but several state and local governments across the nation have introduced legislation hoping to combat this issue. Furthermore, the conversations that we’ve managed to have over the past year and above all, the sharp awareness that comes with simply caring is enough to bring about the change we truly wish to see. A year after it all began for the second time, this is where America currently stands with police brutality. But it’s certainly not where we’ll stay.