EDITORIAL: Trust can only come with actions

Repeated use of excessive force against citizens threatens progress, reform
Protesters gather after Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud was taken into custody in an incident captured on video.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Protesters gather after Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud was taken into custody in an incident captured on video.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Albert Einstein often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Along those same lines, expecting the public to trust you when you keep doing the same bad things to them over and over again is not only insane, it’s also an impediment to justice and social progress.

So one has to question the sanity of the Schenectady police officer who was videotaped Monday apparently placing his knee on the head and throat area of a man suspected of slashing his neighbor’s tires.

And by extension, one would have to question the commitment to justice and social progress of a police department that — if an illegal restraint tactic was indeed used in this case —would condone such an act in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, who died with a police officer’s knee on his throat.

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Police Chief Eric Clifford certainly seemed sincere last month when he met with local residents protesting Floyd’s death and police brutality, even joining them in solidarity against racial injustice and violence by police against citizens. 

His actions and that of his department in response to the protesters, especially in the wake of sometimes violent nationwide protests, garnered the department justifiable praise.

In addition, the city government acted swiftly to ban restraint techniques like those that led to Floyd’s death.

But they can talk all they want. They can take all the administrative action against the officers that the law and union contracts will allow. They can give speeches and attend community meetings and speak all day about their commitment to change.

Talk is cheap, and each time a police agency goes back on its word and resorts to the kind of  tactics that generated the public’s anger and mistrust, they set themselves back.

Each time an officer is overzealous in arresting a suspect, particularly a white officer arresting a Black suspect, and particularly when the alleged crime doesn’t justify the level of force used, they set themselves back. 

With each new videotape, the mistrust and suspicion and disrespect between the citizens and the police continues. And as long as it does, we have no hope of achieving justice and no opportunity to make progress on the racial and social issues that divide us.

How Schenectady police and the city respond to this latest incident will be telling.

But how officers actually conduct themselves in the future will determine whether any real progress is made toward equal justice for all.

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