It’s not exactly a reach to condemn the videotaped killing of George Floyd, a black man, by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.
Still, it’s reassuring to hear from the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, which represents chiefs in every city and town in our state. Last week the chiefs denounced Floyd’s murder as the result of “the egregious actions taken by four members of the Minneapolis Police Department.” Indeed, many officers have joined peaceful protesters in taking a knee or marching in solidarity.
We would all agree that unlawful killings of anyone by police are wrong, just as we support the right to peaceful protest protected by the First Amendment. However, particularly in minority communities, mistrust of police has built to a crescendo. The rise of citizen video has focused public attention on incidents of mistreatment and deaths of people in their custody.
Floyd’s killing galvanized many people, including officers who agree that law enforcement needs to meet clear, professional standards. We praise the leadership taken by chiefs in our state, including that shown by Salem police Chief Mary Butler in her swift dealing with Capt. Kate Stephens.
An unprofessional tweet by Stephens on Monday stands as yet another example of why some people mistrust police. Using the department’s account, Stephens tweeted her anger over Boston Mayor Marty Walsh allowing protests of Floyd’s death, but not opening restaurants, criticizing “You and Too Tall Deval,” a reference to Gov. Charlie Baker and former Gov. Deval Patrick, a black man.
Butler promptly put Stephens on administrative leave and started an investigation. “You wonder why the public is questioning the ability of police to be fair and impartial?” the clearly angry chief said of the captain’s tweet.
In a column published in The Salem News, Butler added, “All of us who wear, or have worn, the uniform know that the death of (Floyd) only reinforces that we, as a profession, have a long way to go to ensure that every citizen is treated fairly.”
Her sentiment aligns with those of many other chiefs. Rowley police Chief Scott Dumas said in a statement he is proud to work as a police officer, “but I understand that there is still critical work to be done to ensure that law enforcement officers are held to the highest standard.”
Their leadership is encouraging as protests and discussion continue over how to ensure that standards and purge those who embrace or condone racism from law enforcement in America.