Over a decade ago in the heart of Buffalo, New York, the story of a Black woman, Cariol Horne, sent shock waves throughout the nation. She was fired from her job after confronting and jumping on the back of a white police officer she witnessed choking and beating a Black man. She was a cop herself.
Gregory Kwitakowski, the officer who almost killed Neal Mack, was imprisoned. He was later indicted on several civil rights violations after using excessive force on a group of four Black Buffalo teenagers. However, his pension awaited him upon his release. Meanwhile, Cariol, after serving almost 19 years with the Buffalo Police Department, was fired without pension. She continues to pay the price for acting on her duty to intervene. Having been recently evicted in what she believes to be an act of retaliation, her excommunication represents the cost of defending Black and Brown bodies. While the shield of police status gave her white counterpart the right to brutalize and bludgeon a citizen, that same shield failed to provide her immunity so she could protect that same citizen. All officers are not protected by their shield, and Black people serving behind the shield often live a life of silence amidst the brutality being committed against their people — the price of survival within the department.
Fast forward to May 25, 2020, a day etched into America’s conscience. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed Black man, was crushed under the knee of Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin. This time, there was no Cariol Horne to stop it. Instead, the world witnessed three other officers stand by, emotionless, cold and numb to a human being lying unconscious on the pavement. Did their duty to control the crowd trump their duty to protect George Floyd?
Is it procedure for officers to push an elderly man to the ground as the other officers pass by? One would think that the right to intervene would take precedence over their stance at attention. But then again, we live in a country where the police are trained to shed their humanity and instead operate as paramilitary. They patrol Black and Brown neighborhoods without caring for the fact that our communities live in fear of losing their lives at an officer’s hand daily. If only a Cariol Horne could have been there to save George Floyd.
Just as Minneapolis schools and parks have cut their ties with the Department responsible for the death of George Floyd, many across the country are considering what it means to “Defund the Police.” Whether it means a reallocation of police resources, chopping budgets in half or abolishing units altogether and reimagining our vision of public safety, this nation needs to recognize that American policing, a modern manifestation of slave patrolling, has failed us. While many stand up and yell that Chauvin and others are merely “bad apples,” I argue that good trees yield far less bad apples than a corrupt tree does. We have seen too many bad apples. The tree itself is rotten, and good apples like Cariol spoiled the bad bunch.
Daniel James II is a rising junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.