Time proves the need for policing - Keith Roulston editorial
It was only two years ago this coming summer that the whole concept of “defunding” police arose during protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. How out of touch that whole idea seems in 2022.
Many people, myself included, thought the campaign was a step too far, anyway. It had all been started after a Minneapolis policeman horrified most of us when he choked Floyd to death in May 2020 while his fellow officers didn’t stop him. Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who choked Floyd for almost nine minutes, was later sentenced to twenty-two-and-a-half years in jail after being found guilty on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for his role in Floyd’s death.
The Chauvin convictions were aided because a 17-year-old woman recorded the arrest on her telephone and visually demonstrated the unnecessary cruelty he used in prolonging the arrest – video that showed Floyd choking and definitely in trouble as Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.
Floyd’s death set off mass protests around the globe as well as incidents of looting and unrest. U.S. President Donald Trump called on state governors to be more ardent in their response to the protesters, telling politicians “if you don’t dominate your city and state, they’re going to.”
Trump later, famously, had police and federal agents force protesters back so he and an entourage could leave the White House and walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church, whose basement had been damaged by fire, and posed for pictures in front of it holding up a Bible.
In response, supporters of the movement called for a “defunding” of police. In the time since, proponents have claimed that there was a distortion of their mission by the opposition, but it’s the misnaming of that movement that caused many of us to be against them. They were really only calling for a cutback in what we expected police to do, they claim.
That seems like forever ago now, back in the days before Trump was defeated in the 2020 presidential election in the U.S. and before he launched a campaign to claim he was cheated in the election – and before the infamous Washington riot of Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 which saw dozens of police officers hurt.
It was also before the worst of the COVID-19 infection and the thousands of deaths that resulted. And, in Canada, before the protests of truckers and other anti-vaxxers shut down the nation’s capital and several border crossings, damaging international trade in early February, 2022.
Police took on a more serious role after the Canadian federal government passed the Emergencies Act in February to end a month-long occupation of Ottawa. Many people who had opposed funding of police in the George Floyd protests were suddenly happy to see them move in to, more or less peacefully, push the anti-COVID protesters out. No doubt many people who had opposed financial cuts to police probably were suddenly unhappy with their actions.
As for me, I was glad to see police finally act to restore peace at our border crossings, protecting the jobs of those who depended on trade, and to our capital. Protesters, however, are still holding rallies to demonstrate their opposition to whatever COVID-19 restrictions remain.
The issue of just what we expect police to do is even more complex than the two situations outlined, of course. We tend to treat police like a monkey wrench, a tool to do whatever we want it to, from keeping people driving safely, to investigating mysterious deaths to breaking up protests.
In a 2020 paper, researchers at the RAND Corporation argue that the police are often given too many roles in society and asked to solve issues that they are not properly trained for and that would be better suited for professionals expert in mental health, homelessness, drug abuse, and school related violence.
And the George Floyd case is but one of hundreds – probably thousands – where police, particularly in the U.S. but here too, from time to time have abused their authority. In the anti-COVID rallies, some current and former police and soldiers were opposed to the government’s actions. Aside from their jobs, cops are still people with vastly different points of view. Given that they see the worst of humanity day after day, some may change the way they think as they broaden their experience.
Police have an essential role in our society. Without laws and police to enforce them, too many of us would act in our own best interests, in speeding, for instance, even though it makes the world a more dangerous place. So we need police, but we also need ways to police the police – to make sure they don’t abuse their powers, as Derek Chauvin did.