Finding ways to make change

Published on Sunday, 7 June 2020 20:48
Written by U.S. Attorney John H. Durham

No words are sufficient to express the sadness and outrage we feel about George Floyd’s death, or to address the history that has led to that horrific event. As to all persons who are charged with a crime, in our country, the officers involved have a right to a fair trial. At the same time, we are all fully aware of the fact that the death of Mr. Floyd was not the first completely unnecessary death of a black or brown person at the hands of law enforcement. We also need to fully recognize that the officers involved in his death are not the only officers in this country who pose a danger to the citizens they police.

Based on my many years of experience in the criminal justice system, I know that these officers in Minneapolis do not represent all law enforcement officers, the vast majority of whom honor their uniform, abide by their oath of service, and act decently and appropriately day in and day out. Attempting to console our communities and those who are sad, or angry, or disaffected with words and examples of all the progress made to this point, however, can ring hollow in troubled times.

While cities around America have experienced acts of violence, property damage and theft in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death, I am encouraged, and we all should be encouraged, by the widespread peacefulness of demonstrations and thoughtful acts of civil disobedience that we have experienced here in Connecticut. I am heartened by images of police officers and state troopers across Connecticut engaging with those who are peacefully protesting, escorting them along demonstration routes and ensuring that the protesters are not only heard, but listened to, and understood.

We are fortunate that, to date, the worthy demonstrations in Connecticut have not been infected with out-of-state agitators and local opportunists. I like to believe that our state’s relative peace is primarily a reflection of the amount of work that Connecticut’s police departments and community leaders have invested in trying to make things better for all of our citizens.

George Floyd’s death is yet another, unfortunate example of how much we still need to improve. Hopefully, technology will help us get closer to where we need to be. The video recorded on May 25 in Minneapolis is both a tragic reminder of the work that still needs to be done, and how bad things were before technological advances provided needed sunshine to everyday policing in America. The prolific use of cellphone video, body cameras, dash cams and surveillance video now ensure that repugnant events are recorded and made known. When police officers fail in their jobs, video recordings now bring consequences that, in the past, officers have too rarely faced.

When police officers seriously fail and abuse their authority, our criminal justice system must hold them accountable. And if a police department’s leadership fosters a culture that permits this kind of abusive behavior, the Justice Department stands ready to step in and work to correct it. Our office has prosecuted bad cops who violated their sworn oath to protect and serve their community, and we have investigated and helped to repair broken police departments. We will not hesitate to continue to do so.

I am proud of the progress that, overall, has been made with policing in America generally and Connecticut in particular, but brutal police actions like those in Minneapolis erase years of goodwill established between law enforcement and community in an instant. It is natural to demand perfection in law enforcement. However, as no profession is devoid of wrongdoers, we cannot expect perfection in all instances. But having the authority to carry a weapon, a mandate to keep the peace, and a responsibility to protect the public separates the job of a police officer from any other and, more important, requires them to be held to a higher standard.

The eradication of centuries of racial bias, discrimination and profiling is an ongoing challenge not only for law enforcement, but for all Americans. Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to finding and promoting ways to make change happen. Until all communities welcome the presence of a peace officer, not fear him or her, and we achieve perfection in law enforcement, we cannot rest.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Editorials on Sunday, 7 June 2020 20:48. Updated: Sunday, 7 June 2020 20:51.