When protests covered the country last month in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers, much remained to be seen about the effects. Would the demonstrations spiral out of control? Would they fade away within a couple of weeks, assuaged by soothing words from politicians? Or would they lead to real, tangible change?
We’re now in a position to answer some of those questions.
While some protests did lead to disorder and property destruction, most did not. And while the numbers may have dropped in some locations, they have not faded away. Thousands are still on the streets, still calling for change in our nation’s policing.
All of that leads to the third question — will this public uproar lead to change? That’s a tougher question to handle than one might think. Change isn’t orderly. It isn’t tidy. It requires a lot of discussion, and mistakes will be made along the way.
But we have nonetheless seen state after state, city after city, town after town dig into this very work. They understand that now is the time to look at policing policies, particularly use of force, and make some difficult decisions. When and how can deadly force be used? What about other techniques, such as choke holds, that still carry risk?
What role does the public have in raising questions about police tactics? What’s the responsibility of the department in answering them?
For that matter, as we face a time of tightened budgets, what about funding for law enforcement departments? Adding more and more money has been an easy tactic for many years, but have those extra funds translated into extra safety?
These are big questions. These are societal questions, ones that get at basic questions about the world in which we all want to live.
Politicians will face the temptation to kick the can down the road. They will want studies. They will want careful investigations into the options. They will want us to take our town. We will never question the importance of accurate data, but let’s also be clear that at this profound national moment, some of these calls are less than courageous.
Maybe, some officials think, if we have a study, people will forget their agitation.
And if people forget, when that report comes back, it can be safely tossed atop the stack of other surveys in the city landfill. The study has then achieved its prime goal: To prevent any change from actually taking place.
The public is loudly demanding change. Now is the moment for public officials to listen to them and try to enact it.