Imagine a story where a military officer loses his son dying in a struggle with police officers after fleeing a possible DUI.
The man gets nearly $2 million in a settlement where no admission of guilt is offered. He uses some of that money to lobby for independent investigations of police officers when a suspect dies in police custody, leading to legal reform in his state ten years later.
It’s not a Hollywood movie. It’s a true story, which began back in Wisconsin back in 2004. The man, Michael Bell, may not have received justice for the loss of his son, whose death is still considered justified by authorities. But maybe there’s a chance that George Floyd’s family can receive some justice if such a law was passed in Minnesota. Maybe it will be an issue for debate in your state after what we witnessed in the Twin Cities.
When Bell’s son (who shares his father’s name) was killed by an officer who felt the suspect was going for his gun, it triggered his father to rent billboards and newspaper ads, demanding answers. Bell teamed up with parents of others who perished in interactions with Wisconsin police, including the family of Derek Williams who was struggling for air and died in the back of a squad car in Milwaukee, and whose family received a similar settlement.
This is not a case limited to one race, as Williams is black while Bell is white.
This is not an anti-police article. A number of police departments in Wisconsin and across the USA already have a system enabling an independent process for such cases, but there is no mandate to do so in most states. I have taught several students who have gone into law enforcement careers, and brought them back for presentations on professionalism in their fields. Our local police chief is well-respected, and has served as a speaker and leader in community policing. I’ve participated with our city’s police officers and country sheriff deputies in racial trustbuilding exercises. Such a law can benefit the police, who would otherwise face skepticism every time an officer is cleared by an internal investigation. As Bell, a retired USAF pilot points out, there are independent investigations of military plane crashes.
As a college student in Texas, I interviewed a police officer about cameras in police cars. He told me the officers initially resented them, but grew to like them when they could show such footage to prove they had acted properly, against a few suspects who charged them with abuse. Independent reviews may be met with similar skepticism at first, until officers can find that such reviews could provide additional evidence for cases where proper procedures were used.
This is also not a partisan story. Bell’s bill was passed by a GOP legislature. The governor who signed the bill into law, Scott Walker, is a Republican, who was even a presidential candidate in the 2016 election. I have had conservative friends join liberal friends post their outrage on social media over Floyd’s death, and the tactics used by the particular officer who was kneeling on him. In Missouri, the legislator who advanced a similar bill after what happened in Ferguson is a Republican. Yet the Missouri bill failed, as did a similar measure in Oregon.
Across the country, police officers and their superiors have decried the tactics utilized in arresting George Floyd. Many have even decried the need to provide the excessive force to subdue Floyd in the first place, based upon camera footage from stores.
There is bipartisan support for reform, and widespread outrage in the public. Now is the time to act, so another similar tragedy doesn’t have to happen again, eroding trust in law enforcement nationwide.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.