Over the past weeks we have seen unprecedented unrest in the United States, and around the world, in response to the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of members of the Minneapolis police department. Though the George Floyd murder was the catalyst, it was certainly not an isolated incident.
Two weeks into the demonstrations, protesters have articulated an increasingly clear and urgent message: policing has to change, and it has to change soon. Police violence, or tolerance of racist violence by private citizens, is a failure of policing and, in virtually every case, that failure has been abject and total. Even a quick look at two of the most recent, high-profile cases, involving Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery is ample proof that the protesters are right: something has to change.
On March 13, Taylor was shot and killed by officers of the Louisville Metro Police Department. Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, Detective Brett Hankison, and Detective Myles Cosgrove of the LMPD forcibly entered Taylor’s apartment with a search warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker believed the officers were intruders and exchanged gunfire with them.
The LMPD fired over twenty times and Taylor, an EMT, was shot eight times.
The LMPD was searching for two people suspected of selling drugs from a drug house more than ten miles from Taylor’s house and who were already in police custody. One of the suspects was Jamarcus Glover, a former boyfriend of Taylor’s. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.
According to Taylor’s wrongful death lawsuit, the officers entered the apartment without knocking or announcing they were police officers. Walker, who is a licensed gun owner, fired first believing the police were intruders. The lawsuit then says that the police opened fire ‘with a total disregard for the value of human life.’
Another troubling incident is the Ahmaud Arbery case. The 25-year-old was chased down and shot while he was out jogging in a residential Georgia neighbourhood in February. No arrests were immediately made in relation to this brutal killing. It was only after an article by the New York Times and the release of a video of the February confrontation that resulted in Arbery’s murder that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations stepped in and arrests were made.
Gregory McMichael said that Arbery resembled the suspect in several area break-ins. McMichael and his son Travis grabbed a .357 Magnum and a shotgun and got into a pickup truck and chased Arbery as he was jogging. They eventually caught up to him and an argument ensued; Arbery and Travis McMichael began fighting for the shotgun when it is believed that McMichael fired two shots.
George E. Barnhill, the district attorney assigned to the case, wrote to the Glynn County Police Department that there was not sufficient probable cause to arrest the McMichaels. He stated they had been within their rights to pursue “a burglary suspect.” He also said that if Arbery had attacked Travis McMichael then he was “allowed to use deadly force to protect himself” under Georgia law. Barnhill later recused himself over a conflict of interest.
There can be no excuse for failures like these and, if anything, they only get worse. And the police know this. Over the last two weeks, police officers have taken aim at journalists covering the protests and police departments have limited journalists’ ability to do their job, infringing on the right to freedom of the press.
We should not let them get away with it. The police are public servants who are sworn to serve and protect. We must hold them to that standard, and we can only do that by demanding that they acknowledge their failures. Something needs to change.