The murder of George Floyd, strangled with one knee while begging for his life for nearly nine minutes, was such an abominable crime that
The murder of George Floyd, strangled with one knee while begging for his life for nearly nine minutes, was such an abominable crime that emotions stampeded the streets. It was by no means the first homicide of its kind, and perhaps the high unemployment and frustration of the months of confinement contributed its inertia to the largest wave of protests and riots in the last fifty years in the United States.
In the midst of the frenzy of marches and demands, we have forgotten to ask a key part of this drama: the policemen who, overnight, say they have been sullied by the bad behaviour of some colleagues and denigrated by a society dedicated to redemption and the catharsis effect; to make them the scapegoat, the source of all problems of violence and racism.
Police sensitivity is not anecdotal. Safety in the streets depends on their morale. Literally: if the police feel neglected or vilified, let their guard down, crime increases and people die. Several studies have proven this link and now we can see it with our own eyes in New York, where shootings have tripled in July compared to the same period in 2019 and homicides are up 60%. The Revyuh team has spoken with one of them. A Latino policeman who patrols the streets and has been in the front line during the protests.
“I had experienced this climate, but not at this level,” says the agent, whom we will call by the pseudonym Andrew since he prefers to remain anonymous. “Hatred of the police has increased. People think that we are going to react badly and kill a person. They don’t understand that you are human and that you are there to help them, not to do harm. Still, they call us more than before ”.
The image of the body is understandably not at its best. In the first weeks of protests we have seen the police hit protesters, shove them from behind, pepper them, or launch an SUV through a crowd. ‘The New York Times’ compiled 60 videos of cases like these. Abuses that, according to Andrew, are real, but only represent a portion of police action. “Yes, there are policemen who have committed abuses. I have seen it. I will not deny it. But we are not all the same. Unfortunately people generalize ”.
The police officer says he misses the videos that show the opposite: the launching of bottles, fireworks and Molotov cocktails against the agents, the systematic robbery of businesses or the destruction of their cars. In the first week of the protests, some fifty police vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Thirteen of them charred. In the following weeks, more than 300 in New York alone.
“I agree with the peaceful demonstrations. You can demonstrate all you want, but without violence,” says Andrew. “But people did the opposite. Vandalism, businesses burst … It was a disaster. We tried to follow the protocols. Taking care of myself, taking care of other colleagues so that nothing happens to them. You do your job and you want to go home to your loved ones.”
In his rare spare time, if he turned on the news, he did not recognize what he had seen in person a few hours earlier. “What the media say is not the truth. They say people protested but the police started beating. And either they weren’t there and they didn’t see what really happened, or they didn’t tell the truth. The press only focuses on whether the police did this and that”.
The agent says that there is a generational difference within the department: the abuse, as well as the occasional racist jokes between colleagues, are usually things of the veterans, who were trained differently. “The new police officers are more aware that they cannot do the things they used to do,” says Andrew.
Either way, the image of the body has worsened, as stated in a report by the state attorney general, Letitia James, in which she calls for greater transparency and more options to prosecute agents accused of misconduct. “The police should not be monitoring themselves. And it requires change and it requires reform,” said James. “Why is this agency treated so differently from all the others?”
Abolishing the Police
Social pressure has manifested itself in calls to “defund” or even “abolish” the Police . Lawsuits calling to minimize the resources and authority of the agents, benefited by the toughening of the Criminal Code Laws of the 1990s and diversifying the response to emergencies. Instead of always sending a patrol car, in some cases, psychologists or social services could work better, in the style of what is already done in some cities.
The City Council, impelled by a part of the public opinion and surrounded until two weeks ago by a protest camp, has taken measures: it has cut the department’s $ 6 billion budget by 17% and has prohibited controversial techniques.
Joe Giacalone, a former police officer and professor at CUNY University, told CBS that these measures can have two consequences. On the one hand, they will dissuade the police from doing their job, for example when arresting or pursuing a suspect, and on the other, they will encourage the use of other violent techniques. “We are going to see an increase in the use of non-lethal instruments such as the taser, the baton or the pepper spray. They will incapacitate people before handcuffing them.”
New York Police Chief Terence Monahan has said that the ban on putting the leg on the chest or back is “insane” – a way to handcuff police officers, who deal with violent criminals on a daily basis and need this option. Different unions in the body have protested and lobbied behind the scenes for the mayor not to pass these laws. No member of the Police department was present during the signing ceremony.
The reforms, together with the climate of mistrust towards the agents, who where they go are usually spied on and recorded with their mobile phones as if they were going to kill someone, have affected their morale and their work routine. “Criminals know they can do things that they couldn’t before,” says Andrew. “No one is going to be arrested, right? If the policeman, during the struggle, puts his leg on another person, on the chest or on the back, he can go to jail. And I honestly don’t want to go to jail. Now you think better of it. He doesn’t do what he did before, so I’m not going to be as active when arresting someone, because of the fear that one has.”
Here’s one reason, perhaps the most important, for the disproportionate increase in shootings and homicides in New York – a city that has had the most violent June since 1996. Policemen have become timid, they have lost the will to defend a society that sees them more as thugs than protectors. And at the same time, they use this attitude as a tool of strength: since we are so bad, let’s see what you can do without us.
The calls to “defund” the Police have generated conflict in the City Council. Some councillors complain that these demands come from outside, from activist groups or from congressmen in Washington. And from the wealthy neighbourhoods of the city, such as Park Slope, in Brooklyn, or areas of Manhattan. Stable and prosperous neighborhoods, with hardly any crime, that, therefore, would not have to pay the price for a cut in the security forces.
“We cannot allow people outside of our community to lecture us about our black lives and what we need,” stated Daneek Miller, Queen’s councillor and co-chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. “Black people want to be safe, like everyone else, we just want to be respected.”
When New York City was preyed upon, every night for a month, by the explosions of fireworks in the streets and in the inner courtyards, the Police chose to observe them from their patrol cars. “We are not going to do what we did before. How are we going to disperse people?” says Andrew. “We don’t want to get in trouble. Let them blow up everything they want to blow up because we can’t do anything, unfortunately. Because they challenge us all and everything we do is wrong. Why get in trouble”.