The last of the guilty pronouncements in the case of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin still hung in the air when your thoughts turned to the other 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers on the job in this divided nation of ours.
Never has there been a more difficult time to do what I believe is the most difficult, most misunderstood job in the world today.
I will explain my logic momentarily, but first let me issue the caveat necessary anytime I write about public safety. My day job involves public relations for a wide range of clients, among them police organizations.
They are not paying me to write this. In fact, they don’t know I am writing it. I am writing this piece because I care about the officers on the front lines and I continue to believe that the vast majority of cops in America can be trusted to do right by all men and women, no matter the color of their skin.
In this belief I appear to be joined by about 7 in 10 of my neighbors, according to a recent poll by USA Today/Ipsos.
Their March 5 survey found that 69% of people “trust local police and law enforcement to promote justice and equal treatment for people of all races” — a 13% rise in support from the same question asked nine months earlier.
On the flip side, the same group did an online poll hours after Chauvin was judged guilty. That survey found that 71% of 1,000 Americans polled agreed with the jury’s verdict.
These contrasting statistics underscore the two very different views that have prevailed in the aftermath of Chauvin applying his knee to George Floyd’s neck last Memorial Day.
On one side, we have those who view the Floyd killing as an indictment of every cop, a sign that everyone with a badge is a seething racist.
They want to “defund the police” and dismantle law enforcement, replace beat cops with social workers, psychologists and who knows what else. I’m surely generalizing, but their rhetoric seems to suggest that every cop is the enemy.
Then there’s the other side, which views policing as a profession in dire need of reform — not wanton destruction but fixes, not extinction but evolution.
What ails policing? According to a comprehensive database compiled by the Washington Post, since 2015 police officers across the United States have shot dead 136 unarmed black men and women.
Such a sad list of names is entirely too long, and it does not include killings like George Floyd, which did not involve gunshots. Nor does it include the other 266 unarmed people shot dead by police during those 75 months, including 168 white men and women.
This list of more than 400 unarmed dead strongly suggests that policing has a use-of-force problem that requires rethinking, revision, repair.
But that is a far different problem than the media and political narratives that have taken hold, stories that drive division to exactly the degree that they refuse to consider policing outside the lens of race and prejudice.
The shortsightedness at work here is nothing new — it’s the same fallacy that makes racial profiling so unfair and appalling. Most of us understand that judging an entire group by the actions of one person or a few persons is bad logic and to be avoided at all costs.
A criminal of a certain race is not an indictment of that race. And the actions of Derek Chauvin and his culpability in the death of George Floyd say far less about the other 800,000 police officers than the critics would have us believe.