The death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers has managed to cut deeper an already infected wound across the American landscape. Fomented by social media and the charge of systemic racism, riots and protests have broken out all over our nation.
Voices spanning the political spectrum, including President Trump, agree that justice and accountability for the death of Floyd is essential and a thorough investigation of the tragic incident is clearly warranted. If racism is a part of what drove the actions of the officers involved, that must be exposed.
But also at issue amid the widespread outrage, protests and riots is the narrative that police brutality is primarily a function of systemic racism, particularly against black Americans. This highly politicized narrative often eclipses a broader problem: the deep-seated and complex causes at the root of police brutality and the errant use of deadly force.
Sadly, there are countless documented instances of police brutality against all races in the U.S., including against white Americans, that continue to go largely unnoticed with little to no outcry on a national level.
According to Reason, in 2015, Kristiana Coignard, a seventeen-year-old girl struggling with mental issues, was shot and killed inside a Texas police station. While she did brandish a small knife, Coignard presented no immediate threat to the officers involved in her death.
In 2014, Keith Vidal, a 90lb 18-year-old also suffering from severe mental issues, was fatally shot by police officers in North Carolina according to CNN. The officers had no compelling reason outside of haste and profound incompetence to kill the young man.
Daniel Shaver represents one of the most brutal and senseless killings at the hands of law enforcement in recent years. The documented footage from 2016 is absolutely chilling. Shaver does everything humanly possible to remain compliant to the conflicting demands barked at him. Regardless, officer Philip Brailsford opens fire and kills the young father of two in cold blood. David French put it most succinctly in his piece on Shaver for National Review:
Shaver died trying his best to comply with a highly unusual, complicated set of commands while under extreme duress… it’s infuriating to see civilian police exercise less discipline than I’ve seen from soldiers in infinitely more dangerous situations.
Even worse, Brailsford was acquitted and given his pension. No nationwide protests. No outrage. No nothing.
From Shaver to Floyd, what many if not most of these instances of excessive force and brutality at the hands of law enforcement demonstrate is not racism; they demonstrate just how poorly trained and woefully ignorant of protocol and procedure some police officers remain, particularly, in times of crisis.
Add to that, the long shifts, the general contempt they receive from the public, the far too insular nature of police departments, and the crippling amount of stress inherent to the job, and it becomes quite evident why so many excesses at the hands of law enforcement continue to exist today.
In 2014, the Los Angeles Times chronicled a few LAPD recruits and put their insufficient training quite succinctly:
No amount of role-playing with paint-pellet guns could have taught Lopez how to control the adrenaline that coursed through her as she chased a man with a gun into the courtyard of a housing project on her first foot pursuit…And nothing the drill instructors said could have readied Bell for the day he responded to the scene of a stabbing and found a woman had taken a knife to her sister’s face because they were from rival gangs.
Beyond racial implications, the complexities at the root of so many instances of police brutality and excessive use of force paint an entirely different picture. For certain, disreputable folks exist in all facets of life, and law enforcement is no exception. However, what needs to be immediately addressed in law enforcement all across America requires far greater nuance than broad, uncritical accusations of racism.
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