2020 will be a year not soon forgotten. Not only were we plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the plague of systemic racism.
In the summer of 2020, we witnessed an unprecedented number of protests across the country following the death of George Floyd. The nationwide outrage began with the release of video footage showing excruciating footage of Floyd handcuffed and laying on the ground gasping “I can’t breathe” as a police officer drove his knee into the black man’s neck. During the nearly nine-minute incident, almost three of those minutes, Floyd was unresponsive.
Floyd’s death propelled discussions of systemic racism and police brutality into the national spotlight. It sparked cries for defunding the police. While such outrage has illuminated the issues of inequalities concerning policing, such incidents are still happening, further showing why police reforms are desperately needed.
On December 22, 47-year-old Andre Maurice Hill was shot and killed by Columbus police. According to reports, officers responded to a call that a man had been sitting in an SUV for an extended period, repeatedly turning the vehicle on and off. When the officers arrived around 1:40 a.m., they found a garage door open and a man inside. What happened next is vague as the officer did not activate his body camera until after the shooting, a violation of department policy. However, the body cameras have a feature that provides a 60-second look back.
However, it does not offer audio during that time, so any conversation before or during the shooting is unavailable. As a result, the footage shows a black man walking toward the officers with a cellphone in his left. Within seconds, the officer opened fire, striking Hill. When the audio comes on, you can hear the officer shouting commands as Hill lays on the ground, groaning in distress. Reportedly, there was a delay in rendering first aid to Hill, who died at a hospital shortly after. No weapon was recovered at the scene.
Just three weeks prior, 23-year-old Casey Goodson was shot and killed as he was walking into his grandmother’s home after picking up sandwiches at a local Subway. Given the absence of body camera footage, we may never know with 100% certainty the events that led up to the shooting. However, according to an attorney for the victim's family, a preliminary autopsy report shows clear signs that Goodson was shot in the back multiple times.
Along with the protests came cries for “defunding the police.” While Democrats see the statement as redirecting money from some of the more physically aggressive policies to programs to better train officers to deescalate situations or better handle mentally ill people, Republicans interpreted “defunding the police” as shutting down law enforcement altogether. Most recently, Republicans questioned how anyone would call to defund the police after six Nashville police officers sprang into action on Christmas Day, evacuating residents before a parked RV exploded, causing damage to several buildings.
Clearly, there is considerable misunderstanding about the meaning of “defunding the police.” In fact, such willful ignorance is what has held us back from addressing racial disparities for decades. Defunding the police isn’t about firing police and dismantling law enforcement. It is about retraining officers in de-escalation procedures, reducing the threat of violence, and searching for alternatives to pulling the trigger. It is about establishing policies and procedures to serve all citizens in all communities and reform police departments to treat everyone fairly, regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin. It means reallocating funds into black communities for schools, housing, and food – all things known to increase public safety. It means investing in social services for mental health, domestic violence, and homelessness, among others.
Yes, some cities have made attempts at reform, such as mandating body cams. However, body cams did not protect Andre Hill. Such minor reforms are like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. It’s time for surgery, which means drastic changes to build a system that equally protects all citizens. We must do this for the family of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Casey Goodson, Andre Hill, and all those who have lost a loved one and the hands of those called to “protect and serve.” We can no longer casually keep closing our eyes and ears to the fact that there’s a group of people whose lives seemingly don’t matter. If we join together in this fight, someday, hopefully soon, we will have a better America.
Betrayal in Black, the fourth novel in the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series, is a gripping fictional novel that closely examines the shooting death of an innocent black man and the consequences of those caught up in the aftermath. The novel pays homage to all victims of police violence.