By Tony Castro, Esq.
Today, we ponder how America could unravel so quickly and sink to its current state of disarray. We witness in astonishment and outright disbelief the scattered scenes of chaos and anarchy springing up throughout our various communities. We sense an ever growing fission tearing at our society, and we start to question if our multifaceted fabric is as tightly knit as we might have wished. How could this happen and how did we get to this stage – we wonder.
The spark was having another black man die at the hands of a police officer. But, this time it ignited an unimaginable powder keg unseen for many decades in our country. What made this different? Perhaps it was the pent-up frustration reaching the boiling point. It has happened before and each time we expect that our elected officials, and others in leadership positions, will take the necessary measures to avoid such calamaties. The problems attract momentary play in the media but no real solutions are ever enacted and the frustration just builds up yet again. Or, perhaps it was the particularly horrible image of a police officer kneeling on the neck of a helplessly handcuffed George Floyd and slowly draining the life out of him for about eight minutes while he was lying on the ground begging for his life – an image indelibly registered in our memories. Most likely, it was both.
The situation raises many questions, but the two most relevant are the following. First, how does an officer who is sworn to uphold the law and defend life and property, end up being indicted for needlessly taking a life? Second, how are so called protestors, under the pretense of exercising their first amendment rights, allowed to commit crimes by terrorizing and vandalizing law abiding and hard-working citizens?
To answer the first question, one must delve deep into the process of a police officer’s hiring, training, and job performance. By now, one would think that government agencies would do a better job of vetting candidates for what is considered one of the most revered and honorable positions in society. Put simply, not everyone is suited to wear a blue uniform and badge. It is an honor that carries great responsibility. We should emphasize that the overwhelming majority of officers do bring honor to their badge and selflessly put their lives on the line every time they put on their uniform. Unfortunately, there is a relatively small handful of “bad apples” who cause great damage to all. They bring shame to their brother and sister officers, and worse, place them in harm’s way. Their irresponsible actions are a catalyst for animosity and even outright hatred to the point where they become targets themselves of random violence. Not long ago, we saw two police officers brutally executed in Brooklyn as they sat in their radio motor patrol car, merely because the perpetrator was intent on gunning down a cop.
The tangential damage extends well beyond these situations, however. Often, the cases end up in court, sometimes in criminal court but almost always in civil court. Even when an officer is acquitted of criminal charges the matter does not end there. The subsequent civil cases usually result in significant monetary settlements. No, it is not covered by insurance. Yes, it is the hard working taxpayers who bear the burden when municipalities have to pay out millions of dollars. So, why does a George Floyd tragedy keep repeating itself? Have we not learned anything?
As for the second question, with regard to the rights of demonstrators, we must not confuse our Constitutional right to protest with outright criminal acts of looting, burglary, robbery, etc. The former is basic cornerstone of our democracy. The latter is antithetical to our democratic principles and undermines our society itself. No doubt, every reasonable citizen knows the difference. No one will argue with the peaceful protests under the circumstances, but how is it that certain media are still portraying looters as protestors? And, where were our elected officials and those in leadership positions when immediate and decisive action was required to stem the ongoing mayhem?
It seems that we are in a rudderless ship in the middle of a storm. Who is at the helm? Where are the politicians? Those that have been entrusted by the public to lead us have woefully failed us. They are supposed to be in control, but instead we are in control of them. We need real leaders to put us back on course, give us a sense of purpose and bring us together. It’s a simple distinction – real leaders have integrity and have the courage to make the right decisions, even when they may not be popular. Real leaders protect those who work on Wall Street, those who build the streets, and even those who live on the street. We can unify and make America great again, but it will take more than a sound bite.
It will take action. It will take an active role from every citizen in doing his or her civic duty and participating in the electoral process. If our society is to overcome this tempest, we as citizens must take control of our destiny, and it all starts at the voting booth. Let this serve as a wake-up call, and may we come out better because of it. If we do, George Floyd’s death was not for naught.