April 22, 2021: On Tuesday, April 20, the country prepared for the impact of the verdict on the murder trial of George Floyd. If we are completely honest, the country – and particularly the African American community – had significant doubts about the jury that would issue a guilty verdict, despite the overwhelming evidence presented by prosecutors.
In the run-up to the ad, people and images dominated my thoughts: Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Rayshard Brooks, and most recently Daunte Wright.
With the deaths of these black Americans and many others as a historical context, I took a stoic stance and held my breath as the verdict was read. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter, third-degree murder and second-degree murder.
Since Chauvin was arrested and driven with wives, it became clear that there were no “winners” here. Floyd is still dead and the violent encounters experienced by black Americans continue at a very disproportionate pace. The result is far from true justice, but what we have as a country is a time of accountability, and perhaps an opportunity to initiate real system-level reform.
He final report of the President’s 21st Century Police Working Group, published in May 2015 under the chairmanship of President Barack Obama, recommended major policy changes at the federal level and developed key pillars designed to promote effective crime reduction while generated public confidence. Based on this report, four key recommendations are relevant to any discussion of police reform.
All are vitally important, but two stand out for being especially relevant after the verdict. One of the key recommendations was to “embrace a guardian mentality, rather than a warrior,” in an effort to build trust and legitimacy. Another was to ensure that “training boards on peace officers and standards (POST) included mandatory training in crisis intervention.”
As health professionals, we know that the ultimate effectiveness of any intervention is based on the level of shared trust and collaboration.
As a liaison and consultation psychiatrist, I am trained to recognize that when I am asked for a consultation on the case, I often do not make any medical diagnosis or perform any intervention; I am helping the team and the patient restore trust in each other.
Communication skills and techniques help to initiate a dialogue, but without trust, ultimately, you will not be able to understand each other in a shared way. The basis of trust could begin with a commitment to procedural justice.
Procedural justice, com described in The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School, “talks about the idea of fair trials and how people’s perceptions of equity are severely affected by the quality of their experiences.” There are four central principles of procedural justice:
- If they were treated with dignity and respect
- If they were given a voice
- If the decision maker was neutral and transparent
- If the decision maker conveyed reliable reasons
These principles have been researched and demonstrated to improve trust in policing and lay the groundwork for creating a standard set of shared interests and values.
As health professionals, there are many aspects of procedural justice that we can and should embrace, especially when it comes to our calculation of the use of restrictions in medical settings.
In addition to the recommendations of the federal government and independent institutions, health policy organizations at the national level have made clear statements about police brutality and systemic reform.
In 2018, the American Psychiatric Association issued a position statement on police brutality and black men. In 2020, it was followed by a joint statement from the National Medical Association and the APA condemning systemic racism and police violence against black Americans.
Other health policy associations, such as the American Medical Association and the American Association of Medical Colleges, have also condemned systemic racism and police brutality.
After Chauvin’s verdict, we saw something new and different. In our partisan country, there was a uniform common ground. Statements were made recognizing the importance of this historic moment, from police unions, both political parties and various grassroots organizations invested.
In short, we may have a real agreement and motivation to take the next hard steps in police reform in this country. There will be debates about policies and new mandates for training and, no doubt, a push to ban the use of lethal restrictions and techniques, such as aid. While they are useful, they will ultimately fall short unless we take responsibility for a real culture change.
The challenge of implementing procedural justice should not be just a law enforcement challenge and should not fall on the shoulders of communities with areas with a high level of crime. In other words, no racial group should own it. Ultimately, procedural justice must be adopted by all of us.
The road is long and change is slow, but I am optimistic.
As I watched the verdict, my eldest daughter looked at me and asked, “What do you think, Dad?” I replied, “It’s a responsibility and an opportunity.” He nodded resolutely. Then he picked up his smartphone and jumped on social media and proclaimed in his well-known teenage voice, “Look Dad, a voice is great, but many voices in unison are better; it’s time to start to work! “
To Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old who captured the murder of George Floyd on video and everyone in your generation who dares to hold us responsible, I greet you. Thank you for forcing us to look even when it was painful and not to ignore the humanity of our fellow human beings.
In fact, it’s time to start working.
Dr. Norris is an associate dean of administration and student affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
The opinions set forth herein are exclusive to the writer and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have any questions about your health, consult your personal physician. This comment is for informational purposes only.