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PERSPECTIVE: LAW & ETHICS

LAW & ETHICS

Photo credit: George Floyd, courtesy of BlackDoctor; Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, courtesy of BlackPast

Floyd, Garner, Rice: Is There Not Room For Improvement
By Rev. Cecil C. Mills, Jr., Vice-Chair At Lage, AHERN Board of Directors - July 13, 2020

The Minneapolis, Minnesota Police Department’s motto is “To Protect with Courage, To Serve with Compassion”.[1]  Minnesota Law Enforcement Code of Ethics 5-102.01 says the duty of a Minnesota Police Officer is “to serve mankind; to safeguard lives …and to respect the Constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality, and justice”.

On May 25, 2020, Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department failed miserably to fulfill his duties.  In fact, all the officers standing around and watching the victim, George Floyd, are guilty of failing to fulfill their duties as well.  Officer Chauvin took his knee and pressed it into the back of the neck of a black male lying handcuffed on the ground.  He applied pressure to the neck of the black male for eight (8) minutes and forty-six (46) seconds.  The black male informed those who could hear, “I can’t breathe”.  He eventually died of suffocation.  The black male’s name was George Floyd.  He was forty-six (46) years old. 

On July 17, 2014, Eric Gardner, a black male, was approached by members of the New York City Police Department about selling untaxed cigarettes.  A video captured much of his encounter with the police.  Derek Pantaleo, of the New York City Police Department, placed a choke hold on Mr. Garner.  Like George Floyd, Mr. Garner says, “I can’t breathe”.  Mr. Garner repeats “I can’t breathe” over and over again.  Mr. Garner is choked to death.  Eric Garner was 34. 

On November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland, Ohio public park.  A bystander called the police and told them “it’s probably fake”.  This information that “it’s probably fake” was not relayed to the responding officers.  Officer Timothy Loehmann of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department arrived on the scene.  Video appeared to show he started shooting at Tamir Rice while the police car he was in was still in the process of stopping.  Tamir Rice was shot dead.  Tamir Rice was 12 years old. 

Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd, had received at least 17 complaints during his nearly two decades with the Minneapolis Police Department.[3]  Derek Pantaleo, the police officer who put the choke hold on Eric Garner, had seven misconduct cases investigated against him in the five years prior to Garner’s death.[4]  Timothy Loehmann, the police officer who killed Tamir Rice, was later fired by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department for not disclosing on his job application that he had previously been dismissed from a suburban police department for being unfit for duty over concerns that he “could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal”.[5]

Are these isolated events merely “incidents” that have been overly publicized, or do they reveal that too many unarmed black males are killed by police?  Statistics are all over the place on this issue.  There are so many variables that skew statistics (the number of police encounters with each race, was the person killed resisting arrest or attacking the police, was the person killed armed or unarmed).  However, there seems to be no dispute that, for whatever reason, police kill blacks at a disproportionate rate.[6]  By one estimate a black male is roughly two and a half times more likely than a white male to be killed by police during their lifetime.[7]  In another study, black people who were fatally shot by police seemed to be twice as likely as white people to be unarmed.[8]

It is obvious from the above that I believe that police officers should receive continuous training on deescalating tense interactions.  I further believe that body cameras, on and working, should be required for every officer.  Also, there must be greater monitoring of police performance and greater transparency concerning the disciplinary actions taken by law enforcement departments toward its law enforcement officers.  Information involving disciplinary violations or investigations taken toward law enforcement officers should be shared with all law enforcement entities, and, “bad apples” should be reported.  These proposals would lead to more funding for law enforcement departments, not less.

I have worked directly with law enforcement officers for thirty-four (34) years.  Most law enforcement officers are not Derek Chauvin, Derek Pantaleo, and Timothy Loehmann.  The great majority of law enforcement officers work hard to fulfill their oaths.  Let us all work to make sure that law enforcement officers are sufficiently trained and the bad officers weeded out.

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1) Minneapolism, gov

2) City of Cleveland apologizes for blaming Tamir Rice for own death in Police Shooting, by German Lopez, VOX, March 2, 2015.

3) Officer charged in George Floyd’s death used fatal force before and had history of complaints by David Hawkins, May 29, 2020.

 4) NYPD Officer in Eric Garner case had seven prior complaints, records show by Spectrum News Staff, June 23, 2020

5) Cleveland just fired the cop who shot and killed 12 year old Tamir Rice more than 2 years ago by German Lopez, VOX, March 20, 2017

6) The statistical paradox of police killings by Aubrey Clayton, Globe Ideas, updated June 11, 2020

7) What the data says about police brutality and racial bias and which reforms might work by Lynne Peeples, Nature News Feature, June 19, 2000

8) Justin Nix, Bradley Campbell, Edward Byers, & Geoffry Alpert, Criminology & Public Policy, 309-340 (2017)

Perspective: Law and Ethics

About The Author:
Rev. Mills serve as Vice-Chair, AHERN Board of Directors; Senior pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, Greeneville, TN; Assistant District Attorney General, Third Judicial District of Tennessee.

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