You've got to wonder what went through the minds of Los Angeles police officers who recently circulated a disgusting "joke" about the killing of George Floyd. At this point in history — following Floyd's death in police custody last May, the summer of tense and sometimes violent protests that followed, and the unmistakably racist tinge to counterprotests at which the supposedly pro-police "thin blue line" flag mingled freely with Confederate and other white supremacist symbols — the words "clueless" and "cruel" don't begin to describe it.
A fake valentine bearing Floyd's picture was reportedly passed around by LAPD personnel together with a sarcastic inscription: "You take my breath away." The lines mock Floyd's tortured final words as he lay near death under a Minneapolis police officer's knee, as well as those of Eric Garner six years earlier as he struggled against a New York police officer's chokehold — and indeed the cry of all Black Americans yearning for lives lived without fear of police brutality: "I can't breathe."
Police nationwide are at a critical point at which their very existence is denounced by some as racist. We face a choice between vastly improved law enforcement agencies, purged of racist ideology and racially biased practices, or diminished agencies increasingly estranged from the public they serve and increasingly seen as the implementation of — rather than the solution to — violence and civic disorder.
The LAPD has a long and sorry history of racism but appeared to have made significant progress. Its ranks now mirror the racial composition of the city it serves, its selection process purports to weed out would-be officers who harbor racial animus, and its chiefs have expressed little tolerance for continuing racist attitudes and actions. It is encouraging that Chief Michel Moore responded swiftly with a statement of condemnation and an investigation, and that the Police Protective League — the officers' union — was similarly unamused, repudiating the "abhorrent image and anyone associated with its creation, dissemination, or passive observation of it." And it is noteworthy that the "valentine" was reported to LAPD brass by an officer.
Yet there obviously remains an element within LAPD that believes it is funny, or righteously defiant — or something — to mock Floyd's death. And tellingly, these employees have felt free to share that sentiment with others in the department to this day. The people of Los Angeles, Minneapolis and the rest of the nation are no doubt looking forward to reading the expedited and thorough report of the investigation, hearing about the consequences meted out, and watching the continued vigilance of law enforcement leaders in rooting out racism and gratuitous brutality in the name of protecting and serving.