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Era of the knee on our neck must end

Phoenix Police officers watch protesters rally June 2, 2020, in Phoenix during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. Groups and politicians from both sides of the aisle are pushing to limit qualified immunity for police officers, a legal doctrine that makes it nearly impossible to prevail in lawsuits against the police. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix Police officers watch protesters rally June 2, 2020, in Phoenix during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.  (AP Photo/Matt York)

Now that George Floyd has been laid to rest, America must heed his call from heaven. His cry is our cry. We can’t breathe anymore. 

In Apache, we say Ndąą Diłhił’í bi’idąą da’ilįį (Black Lives Matter). When one unarmed black person is killed, it affects us all, even out here on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. All people of color – red, black, brown or yellow – are at risk and live in fear of what happened to Mr. Floyd – because it can happen just as easily to any one of us. 

There is an open, gaping wound in America, one that we as tribal members have known all too well. The conquest of tribes and slavery have one thing in common – a 400-year-old fiction that people of color are lesser human beings, a belief that has justified the slaughter of millions, a belief that though unspoken largely persists in certain racist behaviors that cut us down every day. 

Terry Rambler

Terry Rambler

Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely than whites to be killed by police. In Minneapolis, it is seven times greater. The reality is in fact that police and racially motivated killings have become “tragically, painfully, maddeningly normal,” as President Obama has said. 

In Arizona, the same day Mr. Floyd died, Dion Johnson was killed by a DPS trooper. His crime? He was passed out in his car, which was partially blocking traffic. Why he was killed is an all too familiar story. 

A total of 1,023 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year. In Arizona, there have been 252 shootings since 2015. According to one study, for every 1 million Native Americans, an average of 2.9 died annually as a result of a “legal intervention.” All of us have to ask why? 

Millions of people took to the streets to exercise the fundamental right of speech to protest the killing of Mr. Floyd. People are scared. They are scared of the coronavirus. They are afraid for their economic well-being. They are afraid that their concerns are not being heard by government officials. But overwhelmingly, people, and particularly people of color, are terrified that their family members will not come home because they were killed by a violent, uncontrolled law enforcement officer. 

There are roughly 800,000 law enforcement officers in the United States. The rogue cops whose excessive force has led to killings represent a significant minority of the law-abiding law enforcement officers who steadfastly do their jobs. 

What we ask for is that the Blue Wall of Silence be dismantled and that criminal cops be held accountable in the justice system like any other criminal. We also need to hold police accountable when they have committed crimes against persons exercising their First Amendment rights to protest. 

No reasonable person condones looting or violence during the recent protests. The cause of justice for Mr. Floyd’s death gets lost in such chaos. The overwhelming majority of the people protesting are simply expressing a desire for justice – a justice that seemingly is harder and harder to find. 

The police officers of Flint, Michigan, Houston and Phoenix are led by chiefs who have respected protesters and their First Amendment rights. Some even took a knee out of respect and solidarity. This is the standard of police conduct that should guide our country’s police departments. 

America has to come together. What happened to Mr. Floyd has to stop. The era of the knee on the neck of people of color must end. Only when criminals, on either side of the protests, are held accountable will our nation advance toward a more perfect union. 

Terry Rambler is chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

4 comments

  1. Police unions need to be dismantled as part of the healing process. They should be perceived as domestic terrorist organizations.

  2. Information arising after the police killing of Mr. Floyd publicized Minneapolis’ history of police brutality. Though I’ve lived in Minnesota twenty years, this was news to me. The bland media you repeated (“The rogue cops whose excessive force has led to killings represent a significant minority of the law-abiding law enforcement officers who steadfastly do their jobs.”) is not true.

    Not in Buffalo, New York, for example. After pushing an old man into the sidewalk & sending him into a local Intensive Care Unit, the cops involved LIED about it (“He tripped.”) but were suspended nonetheless. Responding to their colleagues’ suspensions, 57 Buffalo police officers resigned from the department’s Emergency Response Team in protest. (This gesture was only that–all 57 are still on the force.) Protesting what? That Buffalo cops are entitled to assault citizens? This perpetuates a police department frame of mind in place for decades.

    In 2006, Cariol Horne, a Buffalo police officer, intervened when fellow-officer Gregory Kwiatkowski had a suspect, David Mack, in a chokehold. Horne jumped on Kwiatkowski’s back to stop him. In 2008, she was fired from the Buffalo Police Department for her intervention in that case and lost her pension. Who did the Buffalo police department see as “rogue” in this scenario?

    And the same bias is seen in departments throughout the United States. Can you think of one police department in the USA known for being temperate, considered, humble?

    Since the automobile began, drunken drivers caught by traffic cops were considered regular people who JUST HAPPENED to be drunk that time. When a study of the subject was done by a grad student in the 70’s, it was found that most drunk drivers caught by cops HABITUALLY drove drunk. It wasn’t a “rogue” spree.

    So it is with police. There’s a loyalty to police culture superseding considerations like what you swore to do when you took the job.

  3. Change will happen, albeit slowly, but the status quo is now unacceptable and the lose of lives for whatever reason will not be tolerated. Mayors, legislators, governors are on notice – we the people will Vote you out if you don’t start to enact policies that protect citizens from out of control police force. As for the police unions – they will be left behind at the table. They will continue to block any meaningful changes, corrupt the process and language used, silence their officers and ensure corrupt police officers stay on the job and earn their pension. They are the problem and if they don’t want to participate on how to reform police for a civilized 21st society, then f*** them. I for one, am tired of seeing the endless brutality of my tax payer dollars being used for State Sanctioned terrorism and killing.

  4. Change in policing starts with us. What are you willing to tolerate for your peace and safety? For too many of us, the answer has been a lot of unnecessary police violence. Stop voting for politicians whose answers to crime and disorder is always and only more police, less accountability for police, and bigger jails.

    Vote for a change in our methods of maintaining public order and safety. Vote for real, budget-based, reprioritization of our tax dollars away from policing as our first and only choice of how to respond to crises. That’s what is meant by “defund the police”; not that we just dissolve police departments (though in extreme cases that may be warranted), but that we right-size them, and put them in a backup role to first responders whose first tool isn’t a gun.

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