Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” The Derek Chauvin guilty verdicts bent it just a little bit more but there is a long way to go before there is equal justice and equal opportunity for Black and Brown persons in the United States. It is up to each of us to recognize that and commit to working toward that goal.
I joined with every decent person around the world and cheered as Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts. We knew he was guilty because we saw the video yet one never knows what a jury will do. We held our collective breath because the defense needed only one juror to believe their improbable story for a hung jury. Thankfully this jury was not taken in and instead focused on facts.
After the cheering stops each of us must ask what we can do to make a difference. This jury punished Chauvin for his crime but it did not change how police departments operate. We can only hope the verdict will get some police officers to think more about how they protect the community they are sworn to serve. We know the culture of policing must change. Some have defined change as officers seeing themselves as guardians of the public rather than as warriors. That won’t be easy.
A good friend, Lt. Brett Parson, retired DCMPD, is working to bring about change through a program called “Active Bystandership for law enforcement” (ABLE). A program described on the website as “law enforcement agencies that serve communities, recognizing that first responders must do a better job intervening when necessary to prevent their colleagues from causing harm or making costly mistakes.” There is research and experience that shows effective active bystandership can be taught. The Georgetown Innovative Policing Program attempts to prepare officers to successfully intervene to prevent harm and to create a law enforcement culture that supports peer intervention. The program’s aim is to “Prevent misconduct; Avoid police mistakes, and Promote officer health and wellness.”
We need to accept this verdict is only a beginning. Collectively and individually we need to continue the fight to rid our country of systemic racism. Each of us must take a long look inside ourselves and ask ourselves what we do that is racist, be it intentional or unintentional, and plan what we are going to do to change that.
I was both moved and educated to understand what it really means to be a Black man in our country when reading the recent personal and riveting column headlined, “Being Black in America is exhausting,” by someone I am honored to know, Jonathan Capehart. It is a column every white person needs to read and we must think long and hard about what we can do to make life less exhausting for our fellow Americans.
To be clear, I am not a proponent of ‘defunding police.’ I do believe we need police and judging by the impact that phrase had on the recent presidential and congressional elections, many agree with me.
But there is so much more involved than simply saying we shouldn’t defund police. What we must do with a sense of urgency is reform policing, retrain members of the force and rethink how police operate in our communities. Maryland became the first state in the nation to repeal its Police Bill of Rights. Other states need to follow. The D.C. Council did some of this in the emergency legislation it passed immediately following George Floyd’s murder. Then we must demand Congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was first worked on in the Senate by Kamala Harris and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) as the Justice in Policing Act. Now as vice president, Harris is urging the Senate to pass it. The House of Representatives passed it in March and it’s now sitting in the Senate where it needs the support of at least 10 Republicans as long as the filibuster exists. Those of us with any sense of decency and commitment to justice need to work hard to convince 10 Republicans to get their heads out of their asses and face the reality our fellow Americans are dying because of the actions of some police.
To save lives we must continue to bend the arc of the moral universe to justice but cause it to bend faster so more people won’t die as they wait for it to happen.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.