Derek Chauvin put his hands behind his back and stoically walked out the back door of the courtroom. At this poignant moment, when normal hearts glued to the television around the world wanted to experience at least mild empathy for a police officer, a public servant whose duty to the public is to protect and serve, he had already made it hard to feel anything for him.
Not just the main evidence video played over and over showing the icy stare during the nine-plus minutes with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, nor the other video evidence later on the scene where he made up excuses and put the blame on the victim.
It was every day at the trial, he, not his lawyer, obsessively taking notes as if each witness was making repeated mistakes, a legal pad full of ammunition to shoot enough holes in the prosecution case to hang just one juror. The COVID-required mask he wore turned out to be a likely blessing, because without it the jury, and worse, the public, would have been treated to the same full cold stare every day of the trial in real time.
The devastation Chauvin caused George Floyd, his family, Black people specifically and compassionate Americans in general, though words can’t express, ironically speaks for itself.
The damage to law enforcement is bound to be immense, and there is no recovery in sight.
Police management and rank-and-file officers throughout the country these days seem to be in a state of understandable depression, disillusionment and distance.
Last week, when U.S. Attorney Gen. Merrick Garland announced a civil rights investigation into the Louisville Police Department for its practices resulting in the likes of Breonna Taylor’s death, the police chief there made no bones about how unhappy her force is.
Subsequent radio and television interviews with multiple levels of police personnel here at home show a similar picture.
It’s a deeply complicated problem with potentially devastating implications. Metropolitan police departments are losing officers, and the applicant pool has shrunk. We are entering a vicious cycle.
And not just in America’s cities. Ill will for police is everywhere.
Unless you are a family, friend or acquaintance of an officer, chances are you rarely ever speak to a cop on the beat.
The president of the state’s fraternal order of police said last week that many officers would rather hang out in the patrol car if they can rather than engage the public. Too risky. Things can go wrong fast.
We can’t go on like this.
Reform for policing is certainly inevitable and needed. As an example, during this awful George Floyd saga, more than a dozen states outlawed the use of chokeholds.
The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association a year ago drew up a lengthy list of across-the-board protocol changes and concepts for community buy-in.
But, if we don’t create a positive vibe about the profession of law enforcement simultaneously with the hard work of change, we will be sorry.
The career of a police officer is one of virtue and honor. We need to say it.
Much like we have over the years become accustomed to seeing ads on television for the Armed Forces, we need an authentic national marketing campaign recruiting for the job and reminding citizens to value the work.
In the meantime, baby steps. Think about extending to a police officer the same sentiment we customarily offer to those who have served the country or you currently meet in military uniform.
“Thank you for your service.”
Dan Yorke is the PM Drive Host on 99.7/AM 630 WPRO, Dan Yorke State of Mind weekends on MyRITV/Fox Providence and owns communications/crisis consulting firm DYCOMM LLC