“Just a few bad apples.”
People like me — young black men — have been told this for decades, whenever we are brutalized by the police. And the claim has only been amplified with the death of George Floyd.
But it seems as if the country has finally come to the realization that the public safety system itself is built around systemic racism and oppressive practices. If it took millions of dollars in damages and hundreds and thousands of voices for this realization to come about, where does that leave the role of the police in the modern world?
Time and time again, those “bad apples” have been granted impunity to continue to tarnish the name of the police and taint the trust of the community, especially with black and brown Americans. Derek Chauvin had 18 complaints filed against him before he killed George Floyd, only two of which were closed “with discipline.”
What discipline? Suspension? Desk duty? What purpose does discipline have if it doesn’t deter future offenses? The prison system has a term for that: recidivism. And those who commit repeat offenses receive harsher punishment. But Derek Chauvin was allowed to not only continue his tenure as a police officer in Minneapolis, but was allowed to commit more offenses, including being involved with at least one other killing of a civilian in 2006.
What does this show us, the people who are supposed to place our trust in the police to “protect and serve?” At this point, it doesn’t matter if there are a few “bad apples.” While it may only be a small minority of police who commit these heinous acts, the rest of the system is more than willing to sweep their offenses under the rug.
The idea that police can act with impunity, and are armed to do so, creates the cycle, which we have seen played out in the past and are seeing play out once more: The police commit a crime, the system covers for the officer, protests erupt, that officer is charged, and things return “to normal.”
Notice the one thing that would break the cycle is missing from it: tangible change — change to how policing in the United States is done, so altercations like the ones that killed George Floyd and Philando Castile don’t result in tragedy.
I hope, as a black man in the state of Minnesota, and as a U.S. citizen, that real change will come from the tragedy laid before our eyes. I hope, as a 20-year-old, that the rest of my life is lived in peace with the knowledge that the system protects and serves everyone, including those like me.
Elijah Todd-Walden is a student at the University of St. Thomas.