This country cannot pave over the memory of George Floyd’s murder.
There is a world where our legislators truly reckon with law enforcement violence, with the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, our very own brothers Terence Crutcher and Delrawn Small, and so many others. There is a world where Black lives are valued, where communities are safe because they have the resources and infrastructure they need, and where law enforcement officers are held accountable for their actions. We do not live in this world.
Instead, we live in a country where the circumstances that led to George Floyd’s murder largely remain the same. Indeed, two years have passed since George Floyd’s murder inspired a global protest movement, and while a number of reforms have passed and the promises to enact transformational change are bearing fruit slowly in some localities, there are also movements to return to law-and-order practices.
The same aggressive tactics, dangerous culture and violence that led to George Floyd’s death remain in force in many departments across the country today. We see this in the killing of Patrick Lyoya by the Grand Rapids Police Department following a traffic stop, the heartless treatment of Ladonna Paris by the Tulsa Police Department as she underwent a mental health crisis, the brutal attack on Antonio Harris by Louisiana Police Department officers, and numerous other examples that speak to the real and persistent dangers that too many law enforcement officers pose to public safety.
We know this: law enforcement is not a solution to violence. Our under-resourced education system, our crumbling mental health support infrastructure, the monumental housing crisis spanning this nation — all of these contribute to the conditions of violence in ways that law enforcement will never be equipped to solve. True justice requires addressing the root causes of violence.
Ensuring safety and justice for our futures has fallen in part to grassroots organizations and families who have lost loved ones to law enforcement violence, who have taken the helm to build safer and more equitable communities in honor of our loved ones; fighting for restorative justice, for law enforcement accountability; continuing to build diversion systems that reduce the footprint of law enforcement.
For too long, the erroneous argument that law enforcement brutality can be fixed by ridding individual “bad apples” has endured. This argument is undergirded by the problematic belief that holding law enforcement officers accountable and investing in community infrastructure is somehow antithetical to safety. Over and over again, legislators have posited that we must invest in law enforcement to the detriment of people, as if policing isn’t already a multi-billion-dollar institution failing to keep us safe. The reality is that holding officers accountable for their harms and investing in communities are not mutually exclusive. A just public safety system requires more than simply rooting out a handful of officers who engage in misconduct. It requires a restructuring deeper than any we have seen before, and there will be no true safety until this is done.
Imagine an America where Black lives are valued. Imagine an America where the intersection of Chicago Ave. and 38th Street in Minneapolis didn’t become known as George Floyd Square. Imagine a country where law enforcement officers, responding to a 911 call about a supposed counterfeit $20 bill, treated the person they encountered on the scene with humanity and dignity; responded to him as a respected and integral community member, someone’s father, son, brother, loved one. In this imagined country, our brothers, Terence Crutcher and Delrawn Small, might still be alive.
We cannot forget George Floyd’s murder, just as we cannot forget the killings of our brothers, and we cannot pave over these memories with performative half-measures that do not get at the root of violence in America. This fails George Floyd’s family, our families and all of those who lost loved ones to law enforcement violence. We must remember George Floyd as we advocate to safeguard our loved ones, our neighbors — our communities. There can be no more lives that end like George Floyd’s, Delrawn Small’s or Terence Crutcher’s.
We do not want to simply imagine an America where our loved ones are safe. We want to live in that America. And we will continue working to ensure this becomes a reality.
Dr. Tiffany Crutcher is the mother of Terence Crutcher.
Victor Dempsey is a Community Organizer at the Legal Defense Fund.