Since the civil unrest began over George Floyd’s killing, some police officers have been acting like thugs.
Rogue officers have been getting away with misconduct for decades. America could have punished them, but it was easier to just pay out settlements and look the other way.
Most of us have the utmost respect for the honorable officers who risk their lives for us every day. But it’s time to weed out the thugs who hide behind the badge.
Now that we have begun to make it clear that bad cops must be stopped, some officers are turning on us like wild animals that have been unleashed on fresh prey. They’re not only attacking black people now. They’re beating up anyone who gets in their way.
For some officers, hunting African Americans is a sport. Black neighborhoods are the arena and residents are the opponents in a bitter game of thrones. Officers who could referee often refuse to intervene, choosing instead to egg the ruthless cops on with their silence and cover up the misconduct when they’re done.
When it comes to social justice, the police always have been on the wrong side of history.
The night riders who terrorized African Americans through much of the 20th century were given free rein. Many of the faces underneath the white hoods belonged to sheriffs, police chiefs and others sworn to protect.
For centuries, lynching was the primary sport of the South. Crowds routinely gathered to watch black men hanged from a tree for an act as petty as looking at a white woman. Police officers commingled with the mobs, their badges in full view — because there was no need for cops to hide.
Black people who ended up recently with a knee pinned to their neck or staring into the barrel of an officer’s gun were as helpless to defend themselves as those who dangled from a limb. It always has been an unfair fight, and police have known it from the start.
It is impossible to bring about social justice without understanding how current events relate to the sins of the past. There is no way to change what happened then, but we do have the power to chart a new path.
Without a doubt, things left unresolved always return to haunt us. Watching the video of Floyd’s distressed face pressed to the pavement, his eyes closed and foam seeping from his mouth, was as unsettling as the image of Emmett Till’s swollen, savagely beaten face peering from his open casket in 1955.
America’s quickness to turn the page on the vicious police attacks that occurred during the 1960s protests that were sparked, in part, by Till’s murder by white vigilantes, make us vulnerable today.
As thousands demonstrate against the police brutality that caused Floyd’s death, we must remember that there was once a police commissioner in Birmingham called “Bull” Connor. He defied anything that threatened the status quo and dispatched his officers to retaliate ferociously against protesters marching for civil rights.
The water hoses and dogs aren’t present now, but the animosity against anyone fighting for change remains. Across the country, some police officers have become increasingly angry and unwieldy.
In Buffalo, N.Y., officers shoved a 75-year-old protester onto the pavement, leaving him motionless and bleeding from the head. In response to the suspension of two officers involved in the incident, all 57 members of the police unit that responds to protests and other crowd control situations quit the tactical team.
Some cops have been blatantly vindictive. Two Chicago officers were stripped of their powers after a young woman reported they broke her car window with clubs, pulled her out by the hair and placed a knee on her neck.
In Asheville, N.C., police in riot gear destroyed a medical station created by protesters, tipping over tables holding medical supplies and food, stabbing water bottles with knives and pushing volunteers out of the way.
Police in Los Angeles were caught on video slamming peaceful protesters with billy clubs and shooting them point-blank with rubber bullets. In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., police shoved a protester to the ground as she knelt with her hands in the air.
In Austin, Texas, officers shot beanbag rounds into the crowd and critically injured a student, fracturing his skull and causing brain damage. Then they fired at the people who were attempting to get him medical attention.
Six officers in Atlanta were criminally charged for pulling two college students from their car and shooting them with a stun gun while they were stuck in traffic during a protest.
Officers were filmed in Los Angeles shooting a woman in the face with a foam projectile, fracturing her eye socket, as she struggled to get away from a cloud of tear gas. In New York City, officers rammed two SUVs into a group of nonviolent protesters. And in Minneapolis, law enforcement officials fired paint bullets at people standing on their porch as one officer yelled, “Light ’em up.”
These officers have misconstrued the protests against ruthless cops as a blanket indictment of all police officers. Their actions are designed to push Americans into a corner and force us to choose between law and order and chaos. Their message is, “You are either with all of us or against all of us.”
They refuse to accept that our desperate calls for accountability and punishment for cops who refuse to follow the rules are not an assault on everyone who wears the uniform. It is, rather, an attack on the inequitable institution of policing.
The difference between “Bull” Connor’s America and the country we live in today is that the masses are no longer satisfied being complicit in the misbehavior of a few.
Floyd’s death has taught us that we can no longer close our eyes to the truth.
The thugs who don’t deserve to wear the badge of honor are stepping into the open and telling us who they are. It is our duty to take them at their word.
Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.