Last week, a citizen video caught a Florida police officer slapping a homeless man. Within 2 hours over 200,000 people had viewed it on YouTube and by the next day it had over 2 million views.
This is the immediate world in which police now live and work. And in an atmosphere of mistrust, this is like pouring gasoline on a fire.
I have strongly argued on this blog that police need to take immediate and authentic actions to try and rebuild trust. My recommendations have ranged from a national apology to individual officers re-committing to fair and respect treatment of those whom they contact.
But all that will take time. And I know that significant organizational change – say from moving away from increasing militarization to one of more community orientation will take a decade or more.
So what can be done in the interim. The immediate action that must now be done as other changes are implemented is to open up the organization; increase transparency and allow close oversight by the community.
These are troubling times for police. I hope they realize that staying the course, hunkering down, and hoping all this anger and mistrust will go away will not work.
Arresting people who video police actions and operations will no longer work. Closing records and refusing public comment will not be acceptable. Change and transformation are in the air. The question is whether police leaders will adapt or resist; whether they will lead or be dragged along.
The are big stakes here — the honor of those who police our great society. And I mean it.
Here’s what we know so far about what happened in Los Angeles yesterday…
“In a fatal encounter captured on video, three Los Angeles police officers shot and killed a man on the city’s Skid Row during a struggle over one of the officers’ guns, authorities said.
“The graphic video widely circulated on social media within a few hours of the incident Sunday brought attention to the death of the man who wound up wrestling with police amid the tents, sleeping bags and trash of Skid Row, where many of the city’s homeless stay.
“The three officers, one of whom is a sergeant, shot the man as they struggled on the ground for control of one of the police officer’s weapons, after a stun gun proved ineffective, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said…
“On the video – which had been viewed 4.3 million times over the first 12 hours that it was posted – six officers can be seen responding to the scene. They begin wrestling with the man as he takes swings at them… Two of the officers break away to subdue and handcuff a woman who had picked up one of their dropped batons.
“The struggle becomes increasingly blurry and distant, but shouting can be heard, including the word, ‘gun,’ followed by five apparent gunshots.”
We don’t know what happened, but in the meantime, over 4 million citizens have already made judgment both for and against.
That’s what will happen when the “trust-bank” of our nation’s police gets overdrawn. Solving the problem is the job of all police because it affects every police officer in America, not just those in Los Angeles, Ferguson, Staten Island or Cleveland.