Americans have been shocked and angered this year by too many citizen deaths at the hands of police. The facts are these:
Breonna Taylor was shot to death March 13 in Louisville, Kentucky when officers fired a volley of ten gunshots during a raid for suspected drug trafficking.
On May 25, George Floyd died when he was handcuffed, forced to the ground and an officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes. Floyd suffocated to death. He was suspected of trying to use a counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes at a Minneapolis, Minnesota store.
Only one month later, Rayshard Brooks was shot to death in Atlanta, Georgia when officers tried to put handcuffs on him and he resisted. His crime? He fell asleep in his car in the drive through lane of a Wendy’s Restaurant.
This year’s deaths were only the latest in a string of killings by police in recent years. A national uproar following the death of Eric Garner, who was chocked to death in New York City on July 17, 2014, when officers questioned him about allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.
All the victims were black and this year’s killings appear to have been the tipping point in the rage from the black community demanding police reform. Protests exploded across the nation.
Congress is considering different police reform measures offered by Democrats and Republicans.
Some activists want to dissolve police departments and use the money instead for improved community projects.
Better relations between law enforcement and local communities are necessary but defunding police departments in a bad idea.
We need officials to help prevent crime and apprehend those who endanger our health and security.
Community policing is the better way. And this is how the recent deaths could have been avoided.
If there were officers working regularly to establish good relations in the community, they could have had this conversation with Mr. Garner.
POLICE: “Eric, we hear you’re selling untaxed cigarettes. You know that’s against the law, right?”
GARNER: “I’m not doing anything wrong!”
POLICE: “Eric, we know each other. Just give me the cigarettes and I’ll let you off with a warning. No arrest, no jail time. I understand that you’re trying to earn a little money. That’s fine with me. But I’m just doing my job and neither one of us wants any trouble, OK?” I’ll just take the cigaretts and leave you here.”
The key here is that the police and Eric Garner know each other.
POLICE: “Hi, George. What’s going on? The store clerk says you tried to buy some cigarettes with a counterfeit bill?”
FLOYD: “I didn’t know it was fake, honest.”
POLICE: “Ok, George, I hear you. Look if you know there are counterfeit bills, be careful and let us know, OK? We’re going to look into this. No arrest, George, just a warning, all right? If there’s fake money circulating, we need to stop it otherwise there will be problems. So get some real money and you can buy your cigarettes. Take care.”
POLICE: “Hi, sir. Wake up. You’re blocking the drive through lane here. Can you just park your car over there?”
BROOKS PARKS CAR AND POLICE ASKS: “Why did you fall asleep, Mr. Brooks?”
BROOKS: “I had a few drinks after visiting my daughter and I guess I dosed off.”
POLICE: “Ok, can we give you an alcohol test to see if you’re intoxicated.”
BROOKS: “I just want to go home, officer.”
POLICE: “I understand that. But we can’t let you drive if you’re drunk, right? We just want to know if you should get someone to take you home.”
BROOKS: “I’ll take the test but I can just walk home from here. I don’t live too far away.”
POLICE TEST BROOKS: “Mr. Brooks, you’re alcohol level is over the legal limit so we’re going to let you go home. But we’d like to take you home or call a car for you. We’ll keep your car and you can come to the police station tomorrow to get it, ok?”
There is no assurance that any of these encounters would have ended peacefully. But if police in neighborhoods had established good community relations, Eric Garner, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks would still be alive.
Law enforcement is not an easy job. Police often face potentially dangerous situations. But these were not life threatening instances. And there was no reason for Eric Garner, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks to die.
Our police can and must do a better job. And citizens must also help develop better relations with the people who are hired to protect us and our property. But mutual respect, cooperation and trust are critical if reform is to succeed.