Editorial: We have only just begun the conversations we need on race, policing

  • People gather last June, calling for justice for George Floyd, who died May 25, 2020, after being restrained by police in Minneapolis.

    People gather last June, calling for justice for George Floyd, who died May 25, 2020, after being restrained by police in Minneapolis. Associated Press File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 5/25/2021 8:59 AM

There are many answers to the question of how race issues have changed in the year since George Floyd's murder was captured on a Minneapolis woman's cellphone video. The overriding one, and the easiest one, is "not enough."

What reasonable person could we find, after all, who would say that race problems have been eliminated, or even substantially diminished, since May 25, 2020? Who would seriously argue that Black people in America no longer have to worry that prejudice or overreaction will infect their encounters with police?

 

Indeed, cynics may say with some accuracy that certain problems are even worse now. Complaints from critics who bemoan police entrenchment and call for a vast redefinition of the role of police have opened deep philosophical wounds, and reasonable voices have worried that events of the past year have resulted in even less trust between police and the communities they serve and have weakened protections against crime.

But perhaps a more thorough assessment is to acknowledge that a year into the post-Floyd era, both in the suburbs and across the country, we have barely begun to undertake a serious examination of the issues in which Floyd's death is but one theme of a multifaceted conversation. In the heady emotional days of the summer of 2020, it was easy to seize on high-sounding slogans like "defund the police" or to break off into camps that "support the Blue." In the long light of reason a year later, it is obvious that there are no easy answers. And that those based on emotion promising quick, dramatic results are likely the ones that need the most intense scrutiny.

A Washington Post project logging every fatal police shooting in the United States since the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, offers the stunning observation that the number and nature of killings has gone virtually unchanged year to year. Nearly 1,000 people have died annually in such cases since 2015, the Post reports, with the number in the past 12 months standing at 967.

This paints a disturbingly implacable picture. But it is not a hopeless one. That we are having the intense conversations we are having at all is a sign of a societal commitment that perhaps was not as profound before George Floyd died. And we certainly can cite developments that point in positive directions, including increased community policing, greater requirements for body cameras and even a heightened level of accountability, evidenced by the murder convictions on all charges leveled against Floyd's killer.

So, as we naturally reflect on the impact of Floyd's death, we can see that some aspects of the issue are better today, some are worse and many remain stubbornly unchanged. But there remains serious cause for hope in the fact that Americans have remained just as stubbornly determined to seek out and implement solutions. That is not enough, to be sure, but it is an important place to start.

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