(TMU) Opinion – As unrest continues to seethe across the United States in response to the brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops, police chiefs across the country have been conveying a simple message: “not my department.”
Law enforcement officials have been expressing their verbal support for the ongoing protest movement against police brutality and solidarity with the anti-racist aims of the movement.
However, law enforcement officials’ outreach attempts have been greeted with skepticism from community members who allege that police are seeking to use PR to cover up ongoing allegations of police brutality, violence, and discrimination.
In Camden, New Jersey, police helped carry a banner reading “Standing in Solidarity,” and even could be seen mouthing the slogan “no justice, no peace.” Camden County Police Chief Joe Wysocki has also forcefully denounced the killing of George Floyd, telling community members: “I think we watched a murder unfold on video.”
In Fargo, North Dakota, an officer clasped hands with organizers of a demonstration while holding aloft a sign that read, “We are one race… The HUMAN race.”
In Phoenix, Arizona, Police Chief Jeri Williams said on Friday:
“While I don’t know all the circumstances of his death, I’ve seen the video, I too, like most of the country and other chiefs around the country, are absolutely outraged with what I saw.”
Like many of the other chiefs, Williams has faced a storm of protests in recent years over the extremely violent actions of the Phoenix Police Department. In 2019, police shot at 15 people, 12 of whom were killed. In 2018, Phoenix cops were involved in 44 shootings in which 22 people died.
Later, she issued a chilling message that journalists and local media covering protests to stop reporting and capturing images if police order them to do so.
In Camden, NJ, protestors took to the streets to peacefully protest racial injustice.
When police saw them marching, they did something.
— Beth Doane (@BethDoane) May 31, 2020
In Kansas City, Missouri, images went viral of two police officers — a white male and a Black male — holding up a sign reading “end police brutality,” drawing praise from social media users.
Apparently cops in Kansas City joined the local protest against police brutality. And my first reaction was to say something smart ass. But this is truly a start. pic.twitter.com/e3sUwaR16h
— Dylan (@dyllyp) May 30, 2020
Local resident Erica Batton was one among many who responded to the image with skepticism, tweeting:
“I want to point out that they’ve been threatening protesters with pepper spray for the last 2 days here. A video went viral of a KC cop coming up to a black man’s car with his gun drawn for not using a turn signal a few days ago. This is a nice pic but just a snapshot.”
By Saturday, police in Kansas City violently broke up a protest using tear gas and less-lethal rounds. Participants in the march claim that the march was entirely peaceful until the actions of the police.
The Kansas City police department just tear gassed Mill Creek Park, where people sat and drank water to recover from the gas across the street. Where a baby sat in a stroller with their parents. #acab #blm #kcmo #protests #blacklivesmatter pic.twitter.com/4kU0oxCOte
— Isa 🦋 BLM (@imunoz03) May 31, 2020
While in Ferguson, Missouri – the flashpoint of massive unrest several years ago following the killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown – police drew cheers and applause after “taking a knee” for nine and-a-half minutes in memory of George Floyd.
The amity between the police and the community was shattered on Saturday night clashes developed and police used tear gas to break up the protests. As a result, protesters besieged a Ferguson police department, forcing police management to evacuate non-essential personnel from the building.
And in New York, several members of the NYPD – mostly Black – have taken to social media to denounce the apparent murder of George Floyd, describing the act as “inhumane” and calling Floyd’s killer, now-former Officer Derek Chauvin, as an “enemy.”
But in dramatic video clips from protests in New York City, the sympathizing officers’ colleagues appeared intent on violent confrontations with the people they allegedly serve.
In one video from Friday, an unarmed young woman could be seen being violently thrown to the ground and called a “stupid f*cking bitch” by NYPD personnel.
A #nypd officer calls a woman a “stupid fucking bitch” and then throws her into the ground. Thank you for tagging me @MattCrumpton #georgefloyd #protest #newyorkcity #nyc #UnionSquare #minneapolis #policebrutality
— IT 👽🛸 (@camerongrey) May 30, 2020
In another video, an NYPD sports utility vehicle could be seen driving through a crowd of protesters.
— Rob Bennett (@rob_bennett) May 31, 2020
As police departments across the country use baton charges, mounted cops, K9 units and less-lethal weapons including tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash-bang grenades on protesters and journalists alike, the large gulf separating statements and actions has been clear.
With unrest in the United States reaching the highest level it’s witnessed in decades, it remains to be seen whether the expressions of sympathy from chiefs of police and individual “good cops” are sufficient in terms of addressing the frayed social fabric and grave mistrust resulting from routine abuses committed against civilians by law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
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