Deaths of black men at the hands of police officers have resulted in growing national concern and widespread protests. Those included peaceful protests in Pinal County cities following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 under the knee of a police officer who has since been charged with murder. The fatal shooting of a man in Atlanta on Friday also is suspect, although he did grab a Taser from an arresting officer. But it is obvious that most police officers simply are trying to do their jobs, sometimes under dangerous and difficult circumstances, and not abusing the authority they are entrusted with.
Police officers are given extensive training and work under close supervision. However, their workplace conditions on the street present situations that force them to make quick judgments. And sometimes officers who act improperly are allowed to continue because of job protections that they enjoy, and that is a problem.
Elected leaders, including President Trump and those in Congress, have reacted to the crisis by proposing some changes. Often problem areas receive lip service but no real action because of political divides or a desire on the part of some to continue a political standoff. Immigration reform is a good example.
In this case, however, Trump acted quickly with an executive order that looks promising. Of course the issue mainly is under the control of state and local authorities, but the federal government has strong influence, especially because of the money it supplies to law enforcement agencies. His order deals with use of force, recommending against chokeholds unless the officer’s life is in danger, sharing of information about complaints and deploying non-police responders in cases of mental health and other social issues.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, are considering legislation that would restrict chokeholds, create an enhanced use-of-force database and set up new commissions to study law enforcement and race. Democrats in the House have their own version. Beyond what is happening in Congress, “defunding” police, which has become a catchphrase with protesters, is no solution.
The fact that these problems are occurring in 2020 is disturbing to most Americans. But the fact that some solutions are moving quickly toward adoption is encouraging.