Kenny Stills, a football player for the Houston Texans, was charged with a felony at a protest calling for justice for Breonna Taylor in Louisville. 

A 15-year-old young black lady was incarcerated for not doing her online homework. 

People play their violins for a young man poisoned then killed in the mountains of Aurora, Colorado; there has been no conversation about the arrests of any of the perpetrators. 

Not even two months later, talk of police reform has become another one of the million back-burner issues, like universal health care or a living wage. 

If you have been keeping score: in Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd died, the city council failed to pass any substantive police reform measures. In Washington, the Senate Republican Caucus offered an all-but-voluntary measure for police reform so bad that, in effect, they gave the Democrats an easy out. Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer didn’t even have to ask the public for patience, the implicit promise is that we will wait for a new administration.

If you have been keeping score: after all the marching and yelling, the fires and tear gas, the only concrete result I can see is that we now have the right to not be choked to death in some places. 

It seems that every day Big Floyd’s death gets closer and closer to getting filed into the cabinets of history. Another “unfortunate incident.” There is an interview with Rayshard Brooks, a man killed by police on July 12th in Atlanta, where he talks about his struggle as an ex-offender, he refers to the inability to achieve a life balance after his incarceration. He refers to trying to find space for his kids in his life. He says that it is actually hardest on his family. We are all witness to the video and from far and wide I hear the same question. “Why did he run?” Mr. Brooks- happily married, loving father of three- was not running away out of fear. He was running away with the absolute certainty that any hope of a fulfilling life for him or his family would otherwise be destroyed. 

I think of the initial reports of the bodycam footage of the last moments of George Floyd’s life. It is said that as the police officer points the gun into the car, Mr. Floyd is seen sobbing, hands up, forehead pressed to the steering wheel. We can only pray that Mr. Floyd did not know of his own imminent death, but I know for sure that he despaired for any hope of a new life. He had traveled halfway across the country to begin anew, and there he was: far from home, staring down the barrel of a cop’s gun.

My friend mentioned a term in conversation the other night that shocked me in its deft precision; she calls it the “having conversations industrial complex.” People talk about a moment of reckoning, but for too many it is just more talk. Our present tragedy is that there are concrete steps that have been proffered, and people of conscience well-versed in the alternatives to our present situation, but we still find ourselves stalled. As a community, as a society, there is widespread consensus that qualified immunity is a deeply flawed system that leads to diminished safety in the public sphere. 

I speak not to the hearts or intents of police officers. I know that if the laws on qualified immunity were changed it would cause a myriad of changes in the culture of policing and law enforcement, maybe even including the reform in training of police, which could be a concrete step in changing the landscape of the streets of our country. 

American minds find the Indian tradition of the sacred cow curious, to the point where it’s almost a joke. But here they are, walking around in our midst.

 


 

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