What do Eric Garner, George Floyd & Rayshard Brooks have in common?
Sure, all of them were black, and killed by police.
But every one of their interactions with police started with the investigation of a misdemeanor crime. Eric Garner was selling cigarettes. Michael Brown had stolen a pack of smokes from a convenience store. George Floyd had passed a $20 bill. Rayshard Brooks had been stopped on suspicion of DUI.
And in every case, the interaction was escalated, until an unarmed black man lay dead in the street.
Is this justice? Is this reasonable?
The obvious defense to this point is that they all resisted arrest. But even that is just a misdemeanor. It certainly doesn’t carry the death penalty.
Let’s consider the alternatives of force in each case.
Eric Garner could have been issued a citation, or let go. What harm was he doing the community? We can agree that his actions were unlawful without insisting that he be charged or cited, that day, without question. What would have been the harm, when he resisted, to just give in? To realize that escalation was not worth the citation?
George Floyd was detained for passing a fake $20. I’m not aware of any evidence that he did so knowingly. A great number of us have had instances where we found ourselves in possession of counterfeit currency. It’s often a little shocking, maybe a little embarrassing, but hardly criminal.
Let’s assume worst case — that George Floyd was printing them himself, and had a wallet full of counterfeit currency. (To be clear, there’s no evidence of this.) And let’s assume he was resisting arrest. Let’s assume he slipped away from the officers and took off on foot. Or in his vehicle.
At that point, you’ve already identified him. Should you want to follow up, or detain him, or investigate him, you can do so. You have all of his information. Calmly serving a warrant at his place of residence surely would not have resulted in his death.
Rayshard Brooks resisted when being placed in custody for driving under the influence, a crime he was almost certainly guilty of. After a struggle with two officers, he was fleeing on foot, having captured one of the officers TAZERS. What if the police had simply stood down? Again, they had all of his information. They had the evidence they needed for the DUI case against him. It’s unlikely that anyone would have been harmed had they simply impounded his car, and served a warrant the following day.
In every case, the illegal acts were of little consequence to the community. Little case can be made for the community being better “protected” with these men removed from it.
Should we not demand that police use force that’s not only proportionate to what’s needed for the situation — something that they far exceeded in each of these cases — but also that’s proportionate to the crime being investigated? Is it not reasonable to say that peacefully serving a warrant the next day is preferable to escalating a situation when emotions have reached fever pitch?
We all agree there has to be consequences for actions. No one is claiming that the police didn’t have the right to initiate contact with each of these men. But we should examine the use of force as it pertains to the crime being investigated. We should not treat traffic stops with the same level of escalation as we do domestic abuse, or capital offenses.
And officer training should reflect that.