The death of George Floyd at the knee of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin may have thrust Floyd into the role of history maker and restored momentum for Black Lives Matter and social change. But we are still a long way from justice.
Justice will be served when we have permanent social change and true equality. For decades, white police officers have killed Black citizens and have not been held accountable. Being a police officer is not an easy job. It is hard work and dangerous, and only the best of us should be police officers.
Unfortunately that has not always the case, as we have seen too many police officers use too much force, and when disciplined, they just go back to work or to another department. The feeling among police supporters was that they should have special protection. That view was not shared by many whites and certainly not many people of color.
All last summer, we watched the evening news and were repeatedly shocked to see people of color shot or abused by white police officers night after night. One would think that at some point a police officer would be more careful about when to use a gun or excessive force.
Our primary vehicle of observation has been body cameras worn by police. Many citizens have been requesting body cameras for a long time from their city governments. Some forward-thinking police departments have added them. Some have not because many police unions don’t want them and some politicians are politically fearful of police unions. Worse, this type of police behavior has continued this year. But now, many of the laws are starting to change.
George Floyd is responsible for many political and legal changes in our police departments. At the state level, his death has focused political debates on “use of force,” chokeholds, better training for police officers, oversight by citizen review panels, body cameras, adding equity and inclusion staff to help train police and other public employees on how to break down barriers of systemic racism. Other police assets such as use of military equipment and tear gas may also be gone depending on the close of the state Legislature.
Not only is the policy debate changing, but so is the face of our lawmakers. Many people of color became legislative candidates and won. The state Legislature has more people of color now than ever before. Those new legislators have followed through on their campaign promises to hold police departments accountable for the behavior of their officers. The scorecard following the legislative session will show significant progress in police accountability. We hope that more creative efforts are made to make police departments reflect their communities because when people of color can see a police force that looks like them, respect for the departments and their officers will follow. One department in another state has established a relationship with a Black college to help recruitment.
Last year was a state and federal year for elections. But 2021 is a local government year, and many candidates of color are running to be city mayors or council members. Others have set their sights on county government. The strategy is the same — fairness and equality.
Voters will have to study the candidates, as some candidates for re-election to public office have suddenly become supporters of police accountability when they were not before. Applaud the Chauvin verdict — it was the correct decision, and hopefully the start of something new. But candidates who have never before supported body cameras, or independent boards with power over “use of force” with a budget commitment, are telling the public that now the time is right. One candidate was confronted with his history and finally had to commit to finding the money after years of avoidance.
We owe the current progress to George Floyd and many others, although the price they paid was too high. It has been said that each generation stands on the shoulders of those that went before. The next generation will stand on the shoulders of George Floyd and many others, and change will occur.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.