We are in the early stages of what appears will be a deep and lengthy economic recession. People are hurting as businesses fail and jobs disappear. From mid-March through the end of May, 40.8 million Americans have filed jobless claims. Prospects are expected to improve slightly this summer as businesses reopen, but that respite will be short lived, according to experts assembled for a panel discussion led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
“People think [COVID-19] is a disease affecting old people,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, during the discussion. “If you think the pandemic won’t touch you, your time will come. Every family will be affected. It’s like a match to a gas can.”
Osterholm’s choice of metaphor was on my mind a lot as I watched protests spread across the Twin Cities after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police. Because Floyd’s death was recorded and went “viral,” we can better conceptualize statistics on police brutality as reported by the Federal Reserve: Black Americans are four times more likely than white Americans to die at the hands of police; the discrepancy is only slightly less horrid for Hispanics and Native Americans, who are three times as likely to die from an encounter with police. The video that chronicled the death of a black man gives life to statistics that, for many white people, have been too easy to ignore.
The protests that started in one Minneapolis precinct on May 27 and have spread globally as of this writing also reveal that members of the police are willing to brutalize peaceful protestors of all races, along with members of the press who are on the streets doing their jobs. One consequence to policing tactics that violate human rights, not to mention constitutional ones, is that cities across the United States have been paying millions to settle lawsuits for police misconduct and the wrongful deaths of people of color.
For instance: The city of Cleveland paid the family of 12-year-old Tamir Rice $6 million to “compensate” for his killing. New York City paid the family of Eric Garner $5.9 million to settle a wrongful death suit. Between 2004 and 2014, Chicago paid out $521 million to settle police brutality cases. Those are tax dollars being spent, which means we all indirectly perpetuate a system that disproportionately targets people of color. It is time to speak firmly for reform rather than stand in silence like those other police officers who were not kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.
Cities and counties now budget for huge payouts to cover police misconduct. Some have turned to issuing bonds to cover judgments, which increases taxpayer burden. I encourage you, as community leaders, to find out how your police department trains, what tactics it allows, and how it holds itself accountable to you and your fellow citizens. Because if you don’t think police brutality affects you, your time has come.