A year since George Floyd’s death, one is tempted to look for progress in the fight for police accountability. But only if you’re hopelessly optimistic. For the realists, any report card of progress would make one a bit delusional.
Yes, within a year, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin–who placed his knee on the back of the neck of George Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds–was convicted on all three counts of murder and manslaughter.
As expected, the case is on appeal while he’s imprisoned. But Chauvin was not defended by his chief, let alone the ranks of those upholding police standards and training in the Minneapolis PD. And that was a big deal. To me, it was the reason the perp, a cop, was convicted.
That’s a lot in one year.
But does it herald a sustainable difference in policing anywhere, let alone Minneapolis? Will it radiate justice, or is it just a one-off?
It can’t be a one-off if indeed #BLM. But that’s where we appear to be one year after George Floyd.
We are still taking baby steps towards the promised land.
If you don’t think so, consider the history of policing in Oakland, Calif. over the last 20 years.
In a notorious case known as “The Riders,” around the turn of the millennium, some Oakland cops were accused of kidnapping, planting evidence, kicking down doors, and conducting warrantless searches against East and West Oakland residents.
A class action lawsuit against the police ended in the largest negotiated settlement agreement (NSA) in Oakland municipal history on March 14, 2003.
It called for the city to pay $10.9 million to more than 100 class members. And it included 31 reforms to be made by the department, including policies on the use of force, racial profiling, and updating technology, such as wearing camcorders.
Simple, right? Obtainable within a year or two? Nope.
To this day, Oakland has had a new police chief every two years, and many of the NSA’s reforms have not been fulfilled.
This accounting all comes from the honorable Thelton Henderson, the now-retired federal judge who oversaw that NSA. In a lecture on police reform at Berkeley Law this spring, Henderson expressed his frustration that the NSA he oversaw had been passed on to a new judge.
Henderson described the task to reform Oakland’s police department with modest reforms as “Herculean.” He said it’s because policing has taken the “war on crime” idea literally, turning police into “soldiers, or an occupying force with battle armor and tanks and assault weapons ready to do battle with the communities they have vowed to protect and serve.”
Add to that the police unions, which constantly remind the public of the dangerousness of the job. Unions leverage all that to make the police an uber-force. As Henderson sees it, no one understands the dangerous role unions play in public safety.
“We know something is wrong, when one side in the bargaining process eventually amasses such an imbalance of power that it seems to operate as an autonomous unit, almost independent of its employer,” said Henderson.
It’s almost as if the city is at the mercy of the department as Oakland’s leaders come and go, including Jean Quan, the first woman and Asian American to serve as mayor.
Henderson believes the police unions have taken collective bargaining to the point where they harm our democratic society.
Things are bad when reasonable people see the need to seek protection from the police.
That’s why to assess where we are one year after George Floyd is way too soon.
Police reform won’t come quickly so long as the country is hamstrung by the unions.
THE ASIAN AMERICAN GEORGE FLOYD: ANGELO QUINTO
In his talk, Henderson also mentioned the Angelo Quinto case.
Quinto is the Filipino American who got the George Floyd treatment in Antioch, California last December. Quinto died after an officer restrained him by placing a knee to the back of the neck.
Henderson already senses he can predict the future. The Quinto family has sued the city of Antioch. The city has denied an illegal choke hold was used. There likely will be a negotiated settlement that the city and its citizens will pay. Police reforms will be discussed, but because of the unions, they may or may not be installed. The police once again will escape accountability. And the people they are supposed to protect will be frustrated.
Then we’ll wait for the next victim to repeat the same thing all over again.
It’s the cycle of bad policing in America.
There’s still hope we can break it. It’s just been one year since the death of George Floyd.