A white man dials into a radio station, a local NPR affiliate.
He’s eager to answer the host’s query, one that’s being dissected across America: What’s different this time, with the death of yet another black man in what should have been a relatively minor encounter with police?
“It looked like a lynching,” the man said of the inhumanity displayed in the video footage of George Floyd gasping for his last breath, a Minneapolis policeman’s knee on his neck. “The cell phone invited me to a tree that I didn’t want to visit.”
Guess what, buddy, African Americans never wanted to visit that tree either. Don’t you dare look away now.
But America is eager to move on, to avert its gaze from what’s uncomfortable. The country’s tiring, as it always does, of protest, of people marching after Floyd’s death.
Businesses want to reopen, their profits zapped first through closure due to the coronavirus and then by the massive protests that swept the nation, shutting down streets and yes, burning some stores to the ground.
Not surprisingly, talk of “healing” is increasingly heard. The nation lingers in this moment, but it won’t be here long. It never stays long. For now, the air is still heavy with anger and grief, alongside the desire for Floyd’s death to finally bring widespread changes in policing.
But America, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Another task must be completed first. And it’s central to accomplishing the dramatic law enforcement reforms that protesters are calling for: less use-of-force, more accountability, fewer militarized Robo-cops, more cops who are allowed to truly protect and serve their community.
The task? To cast a vote in November.
Four years ago, a racist walked into The White House. He must be removed in November by a landslide. America must deny Donald Trump a second term, leaving no doubt about its choice or the direction that we desire as a nation.
Trump, whether people realize it or not, controls much of whether the demands for change can result in substantial reform for law enforcement.
Law enforcement derives much of its framework, welded aspects of its culture, from national attitudes, funding and commitments overseen through the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ is headed by the attorney general, who is appointed by the president.
Consider that the war on drugs was leveraged from a national dictate and then built for decades, influencing the disproportionate filling of prisons with black men, managed under lucrative contracts with private industry. Prosecutors had to be involved, local jails, bail bonds, sentencing and, yes, local police. That’s a system.
But Trump has exhibited no interest in understanding how criminal justice has historically been weighted toward discrimination. In fact, he seems to lean heavily on racist rhetoric when sharing his views on the protesting.
Trump, in recent days, has promoted the use of the National Guard to squash dissent of protesters, doubling down in dictator terms, calling for an active military to fight its own citizenry.
Trump glorifies police brutality, tweeting, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a racist catcall lifted from the civil rights era, a period when sheriffs and chiefs of police knew they could act with impunity against African Americans.
People tend to view policing as a local issue. And indeed, cities fund their own departments, hire their own officers and govern these departments with local input.
Under the whims of Trump, the Justice Department has shifted away from another key function — enforcing consent decrees with troubled police departments, ones that have undergone deep dive assessments, performed by the civil rights division of the DOJ.
Such reports often explain the answer to one question being asked now about Floyd’s death. Why did the other officers calmly stand by while he died?
Assessments can unravel embedded attitudes, incentives, rationalizations and policies that tend to build in any organization over time, causing great inequities and violations even when most of the players desire a far more just way.
Trump lacks the intelligence required to understand such complexity. And if the last three years of his presidency have been any indication, the second the current attorney general dares to step out of line, Trump will find another more to his liking waiting in the wings.
The call “No Justice, No Peace” beckons, and rest assured it never recedes for long.
If you truly believe that Black Lives Matter, you’ll be willing to remove the greatest impediment to their safety and security in America — Donald J. Trump must not have a second term.