“Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34:14
“Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” James 4:17
On Monday, May 25, 2020, a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer put his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck and left it there for more than eight minutes. Mr. Floyd died. Mr. Floyd begged the officer to move his knee, said he could not breathe, even saying he was afraid the officer would kill him. Mr. Floyd was correct; the officer did kill him, by not doing what every law enforcement officer in the nation should know to do, what every bit of training throughout my more than twenty years wearing the badge (and common sense) taught me – NOT to continue to put pressure on a person’s neck, to move a handcuffed person onto their side or into a sitting position and NOT to leave them face-down on the ground, to get someone complaining of medical issues checked by a medical professional. To stop all aggression and force as soon as feasible, because that is not only the law, it is the right thing to do. Mr. Floyd died because the now-arrested officer failed to do what was right, what training and simple common sense – common decency – should have demanded he do.
People across the nation are outraged, as well they should be. Not just because the now-arrested officer refused to act like a decent human being, but because three other officers just stood there and let it happen. They, too, refused to do what was right. They refused to intervene. They refused to intercede on Mr. Floyd’s behalf. They heard Mr. Floyd’s pleas and ignored them. If you are human, this – the actions and inactions of those four people – should disgust you to your core. As a Christian, you should be utterly devastated by this inhumanity.
Some have wanted to wait for the autopsy results before commenting on this. Others cite commentary about Mr. Floyd’s alleged behavior prior to being placed in handcuffs as a way to justify the former officer’s actions. As a law enforcement officer, to be silent would be a tacit approval of this scenario. To be silent would make me, as a law enforcement officer, as bad as those who just stood there watching. To be silent would be knowing the good to do and not doing it. What happened to Mr. Floyd is wrong, and it must be condemned.
Just as doctors have a motto (do no harm), so do law enforcement officers – to protect and to serve. What was done to Mr. Floyd did not protect. What was done to Mr. Floyd did not serve. In fact, after a week, a nation burns. There was no protecting. There was no serving. And now, the National Guard must come in to assist in restoring some semblance of order. All because four people could not follow the most basic, simplistic, and logical tenets of the job they swore an oath to uphold. All four of them acted in direct contradiction to the idea of to protect and to serve. All four of them tarnished the badge on their chests as they let Mr. Floyd die while they failed to protect or to serve, while they listened to his cries and did nothing. While they watched him die, and let tragedy unfold before their eyes.
So, what do we do? How do we go forward? If we want justice, we must point out wrongdoing and hold them individually responsible for their acts. Additionally, we must all collectively decry the unnecessariness and preventability – the very wrongness – of Mr. Floyd’s death. For law enforcement officers, we must ALL denounce the actions and inactions of those four former officers. As law enforcement officers, we must be the bastions of accountability against these men for what they did and did not do. We must question how these officers could have done and could have allowed this; what training, what thought process led them to believe their actions acceptable and correct it, stop it. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who detests bad cops and their actions more than good cops. Why? Because we know just how important the job is, we understand the gravity of our calling, the implicit and explicit power behind that calling, and we cannot abide those who would hide behind that badge in order to abuse its power. Every day, we face the weight of our calling (a burden we gladly bear) so everyone else can know peace; when even one officer acts against the nature of that calling, it upsets the delicate trust required to maintain it.
George Floyd should not have died. George Floyd should not have needed to beg for his life. The former officers – now arrestees – should have listened, they should have helped, they should have served his needs, they should have protected George Floyd – even from themselves. George Floyd deserves to be remembered.
J. Marie Griffin-Taylor is Dean and Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Truett McConnell UniversityReturn to Blog Archive