June 8, 2020

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

We have to start here

In George Floyd’s final moments on Earth were the cries for mama heard around the world.

Floyd, an African American man, died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while he was prone and handcuffed. In the 8 minutes and 46 seconds the officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck, Floyd can be heard saying “I can’t breathe,” and calling out, “mama.”

He was arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store in Minneapolis — a crime we wouldn’t even deem worthy of spilling ink on these pages, much less spilling blood.

He was not the first unarmed black man — or woman, or child — to die at the hands of police officers or vigilantes.

Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Michael Brown. Terence Crutcher. Walter Scott.

We frankly don’t have the space to name them all in this column. But, we grieve for them all. And, we grieve for every black American who has died as a result of systemic racism. We grieve for black Americans who are more likely to lose their lives and livelihoods to COVID-19, another crisis facing our country that disproportionately impacts African Americans.

Floyd’s tragic death was a catalyst for a global movement — from Paris and Amsterdam to Chicago and D.C. to Anna, Carbondale, Carterville, Du Quoin, Herrin and Marion.

You have undoubtedly seen many individuals and institutions in the last several days hop on the #BlackLivesMatter bandwagon, including politicians, celebrities, companies, and maybe even the “Beckys” and “Karens” in your Facebook or Instagram feeds.

We, an all-white editorial board, do not attempt to bandwagon with the words we share with you today.

We echo the words protesters chanted in Anna on Thursday: “I’m not black, but I see you. I’m not black, but I hear you. I’m not black, but I mourn for you. I’m not black, but I will fight for you.”

We use this space simply to say: Black lives matter.

We have been inspired in the last week as we have watched a national movement unfold here in our rural towns. We are proud of the young people in our local communities who are spearheading this new Civil Rights movement in an effort to build a better future for us all. Considering the national scenes of militarized police in larger cities cracking down on peaceful protests, we are relieved when we see local police protecting the First Amendment rights of the citizens who pay their salaries.

The public mourning for George Floyd and so many others, the marches, the protests, the acts of solidarity by some police officers — everything that is culminating in this moment locally — are the beginning. We all have important work ahead of us. We have to mourn. We have to listen to those who are crying out for relief. Those of us who may not understand why people say “black lives matter” or “white privilege” need to take this moment to listen. Open your hearts and minds. Seek to be humble rather than defensive.

Listen to George Floyd calling for his mama. Listen to the final pleas of a man who shouldn’t have died and didn’t have to die. Listen to the people who are speaking for him now that he cannot speak for himself.

In order to be a truly great America, one in which all lives truly do matter, we have to start here. And, moving forward, we all must continue to do the hard work. Right now, our coverage is focused on listening to the voices that are crying out for relief, for change. In the coming weeks, we look forward to covering the conversations that will carry us forward toward meaningful reform.

At a national level, these may seem like big city issues. Our neighbors who have turned out to demonstrate in small towns across rural Illinois are telling us otherwise.


June 7, 2020

Chicago Sun-Times

Rewrite Chicago’s police union contracts to restore a shaken public’s confidence

Rewrite the contracts.

Police union contracts in many American cities, including Chicago, have become a threat to community safety by shielding abusive police officers. They just gotta go.

As police unions have spread across the nation over the last half-century, they have secured provisions in collective bargaining agreements that protect their members from answering to the public, or even to elected officials. Many contracts make it virtually impossible for police departments to punish rogue officers.

There is a straight line from those collective bargaining agreements to misconduct by individual officers, who know there is little risk of their being called to account. Last year, a University of Chicago study found misconduct complaints — though not a large number — increased after a Florida court gave sheriff’s deputies the right to unionize.

“Our estimates imply that the right to bargain collectively led to about a 40 percent increase in violent incidents at (sheriff’s offices), which appears to persist over time,” the study said. The study did not examine details of particular union contracts, said Dhammika Dharmapala, a U. of C. law professor and one of three authors of the study.

Every day we have the existing contract in place is a day when we have serious systemic barriers to reform in place.

Most police officers do a hard job well. And we believe fully in the right of officers to collectively bargain for better salaries, benefits, job security and working conditions. The city’s largest police union has been working without a contract since June 30, 2017, nearly three years.

And, yes, it’s also only right for police unions to protect their members from false or exaggerated complaints, which are always a risk of the job.

The danger to society, however, comes when union contracts throw up absurd obstacles to civilian oversight.

Society gives to the police extraordinary powers — to physically manhandle people when necessary, to deprive people of their liberty, to even take a life. Extraordinary accountability and oversight is required in return, and nothing in a union contract should be allowed that compromises those checks and balances.

Police contract reform is not just about holding to account the individual bad cop. It’s about reforming the culture and practices of police departments.

Bad contracts in Chicago and elsewhere make it hard for police chiefs to run their departments. And every bad police officer left on the street is a bad influence on others.


June 7, 2020

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Defund police? Don’t kid yourself

Last week was an awful week in the history of this country.

It went from terrible — the unjustified killing of a Minneapolis man at the hands of police — to even more terrible — riots, looting and deaths that spanned the country.

It probably could have been worse. Perhaps it will get worse. Events have taken on a life of their own, and there’s no telling where circumstances will go from here.

One thing is for sure. Anyone who believes that eliminating or dramatically reducing the ability of law enforcement to maintain public order has been sold a bill of goods by modern-day charlatans, too many of whom, regrettably, hold positions of authority.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last week announced plans to dramatically reduce his city’s police department budget. So, too, did the mayor of San Francisco. New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, can be expected to follow.

In Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd was killed, authorities are proposing the police department be eliminated. Consider this news report, “Minneapolis City Council President says that the Minneapolis Police Department will be dismantled and replaced with a ‘transformative new model of public safety.’”

If such madness comes to fruition, it will indeed be transformative — from order to disorder, “Lord of the Flies” writ large. The rule of law requires measured, accountable and professional law enforcement.

The natural tendency is to dismiss such self-destructive talk as the venting of emotional people in the wake of the Floyd tragedy. It’s much more organized than that; discussion in certain quarters of “defunding the police” is nothing new.

But it’s gained undeserved credibility in the wake of recent events.

Remember this, however. Power abhors a vacuum. If police are not present to maintain order, chaos will soon follow. Look at what happened at Market Place Mall in a matter of minutes before police arrived. What if officers had never shown up? And what of the other looted businesses in Champaign, like Good Vibes, where they didn’t show up?

That’s the future if some people have their way.

The anger and rage on display since Floyd’s death is understandable.

But to place responsibility on all police officers for the actions of one, principally, would be as unfair as blaming all those legitimately protesting Floyd’s death with the looters, vandals and rioters who took advantage of the protests to commit their crimes.

Lawlessness goes both ways, and people should remember that.

Last week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot condemned residents of the city’s Bridgeport neighborhood for protecting their homes by arming themselves with baseball bats and going into the streets.

She urged them to call 911 if they had a problem. What if there’s no 911 to call for assistance?

Lightfoot also made another important point last week when she pleaded with retailers whose stores were gutted and burned to reopen. She said the residents of the neighborhoods where the stores were located need the businesses to buy their food and necessary merchandise.

Unfortunately, the reality is that if there’s no security, there will be no businesses to serve people’s needs.

Here’s something else to think about — the police officers who were condemned en masse last week are the same kinds of people who rushed into the burning World Trade Center buildings on 9/11.

Sure, there are bad apples among them. The answer is to weed them out and/or train them up, not condemn or disparage the overwhelming majority who are devoted to doing the right things for the right reasons.