“If we can look at ourselves closely, and honestly, I believe we will see that we all need justice. We all need mercy. And perhaps, we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
– Bryan Stevenson
Many statements have been made and demands issued in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer, whose name I will not say because names hold power and I refuse to confer more power to one whose abuse of it betrayed not merely his badge but humanity. Out of the many statements and subsequent demands for police reform, a very clear message has emerged: Actions must speak louder than words.
The circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death are not unique. And while this truth is reason enough to rail against the injustices it illuminates, it also pushes us to explore what makes this moment in our country’s history different. I started my career in policing in 1990 and less than one year later, Rodney King was brutally beaten by LAPD officers. I recall that as a new officer, I was shocked to see those officers swinging their batons repeatedly as Rodney King lay on the ground offering no resistance. Not only did the actions of those LAPD officers stand in stark contrast to all the training I had received around the use of force, they went against everything we had been taught in the academy about our role as guardians and peacemakers – that which called me and so many who wear the badge to serve. Thirty years later, history has repeated itself far too many times. Despite the unique span of the current movement for reform, its success in effecting real change will be dependent on one thing: Actions must speak louder than words.
I have come to understand that justice is not a “one-and-done” proposition. It’s a purpose that is served, an ongoing process that continuously translates words into fair and just actions. As such, I believe it is never too late for justice. In that spirit, last week the UWPD announced our Racial Equity Initiative, a comprehensive action plan for engaging with the community to ensure the department’s policies and practices are filtered through a racial equity lens across a number of core areas within our operations. Thoughtful and effective reform begins with first knowing and understanding present form, so if you have not already reviewed the website outlining our commitment to action, I strongly encourage you to do so.
So why are we doing this now? A fair question to be sure, given that the issues we are confronting across the country are not new. While UWPD has long been committed to fostering relationships and building community trust – efforts that are grounded in our core values and reflected in our policies, practices, and training – we have before us not only an opportunity to further engage, but unprecedented community momentum to work together toward meaningful and impactful change.
The vision for the Racial Equity Initiative is much more than a handful of adjustments to department policies and practices. For me, it’s an exploration to create a comprehensive model alongside our community for what a racially just police department can and should look like. In doing so, I hope to reimagine the soul of our profession in the eyes of those we serve. I hope to reclaim what the Minneapolis police officer whose name I will not say and others like him have taken from me, police officers I have the privilege of leading at the UWPD, and communities across our country.
I understand that those who may question the timing of this initiative likely do so with a skepticism about whether or not our commitment to action is real. Is this a way of quieting things down until we can go back to business as usual? The answer is an unequivocal no. I agree with the message that actions must speak louder than words. But we can’t do this alone. The success of this initiative is contingent on our collective willingness to engage in the in-depth conversations and difficult work needed to achieve progress. And this will require not only a shared commitment to justice, but a shared vision and constructive action to propel us forward.