By Jose Ometeotl, City Manager of Lynwood
The death of one man can be an isolated tragedy. But the death of George Floyd represents a tragedy and a trauma that an entire people have suffered for generations. He’s one of over 1,000 people who are killed by police every year—and it’s three times more likely the victim will be black.
But there feels like there’s something different about the death of George Floyd.
We are seeing some interesting reaction from law enforcement. Many, to their credit, understand this may be an intersectional moment. As a result, seeing some police and sheriff marching with or kneeling with protestors around the country is a solid gesture. It isn’t lost of any of us though that it wasn’t that long ago when the NFL (and much of America) essentially banished Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the playing of the national anthem in protest of police brutality.
So, excuse me, but this Johnny-come-lately symbolism feels like placating and self-preservation. I’d love for it to be genuine but I’m skeptical. I’m doubting this is the last time that we’ll hear of violence being perpetrated on an unarmed man of color.
The rioting—which is abating somewhat– is a natural response to a community that has been abused by those in power for centuries. Violence is normal to those that have been traumatized by violence.
Those that have created and maintain these institutions of intolerance and cruelty should feel the same pain. They are feeling the scrutiny to be sure, but they need to feel this deeper than that.
A question we should ask. Would this new found “We hear you” coming from law enforcement even be uttered if the rioting and looting had not occurred here in LA County and across the country?
The answer is “probably not.”
But these frightful and anxious days also offer an opportunity – a moment to create something we all dream of – change for the better. As our part, the City of Lynwood plans to join the Obama Foundation “Commit to Action” with other city councils and police oversight bodies to address police use of force policies.
Here in Lynwood—a city of mostly brown and black people– we have long relied on the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. to ensure our communities are safe. We believe they take that responsibility seriously and using recent crime statistics as one measure, they have worked hard to keep us safe. But there’s more to policing than crime statistics.
And as we enter an era where truth has become essential to healing, we can and should engage our law enforcement partners with honesty and simply state – you can do better.
Not long ago, before any of us knew who George Floyd was, we witnessed a disturbing incident in our city that demonstrates there may be law enforcement officers in our midst who either need to be re-trained or need to turn in their badges. The fact we are still waiting to hear exactly what happened and why points to the need for greater accountability by the Sheriff’s Dept. This doesn’t happen often in Lynwood – but it happens often enough and frankly, it doesn’t need to happen at all.
Keeping Lynwood safe is a two-way partnership – we understand that. Patrolling deputies can only do so much – they need our help – our support – our cooperation. The trust that kind of partnership requires is tenuous, and honestly, does not exist in many of our communities. The majority of the deputies who work in Lynwood are courteous, professional – even friendly. Which is why it is vital that those who do not deserve our trust – must be identified and dealt with to ensure this critical partnership can grow – and that we can truly heal.
I hope you haven’t read this as an indictment of law enforcement.
But do read it for what is.
This time is different so things better change.