On May 26, I was shocked once again to watch the death of yet another black man in police custody due to the criminal behavior of a white police officer. Videos of four police officers arresting George Floyd in Minneapolis undeniably show an officer using dangerous and unacceptable techniques to restrain Mr. Floyd, resulting in his death. This, as his fellow officers stood by, despite pleas from bystanders to stop.
In most communities, law enforcement officers are our most visible representatives of government. The public must be able to trust those tasked with serving and protecting them. In our law enforcement role, in order to protect vulnerable people, there are times we must curtail the liberties of other citizens. In doing so, we must absolutely rely upon our community’s expectations, our training, our character and our core values reflecting human dignity and the preservation of life to prevent the abuse of that authority.
That Tuesday night, I witnessed a complete betrayal of public trust and the abuse of authority by a morally bankrupt officer, as well as the lack of courage of three officers to intervene in the criminal behavior of a fellow officer.
As the county sheriff, I commit to join my fellow law enforcement leaders at the local, state and national levels to pick up the mantel of building public trust and the legitimacy of law enforcement. To do so will require our acknowledgement of years of institutional racism in our profession. It will take strong leadership from each of us in partnership with leaders and citizens in our communities of color. We must rebuild trust with more than hollow words. It will take the hard work of listening, learning, healing and action.
Dave Mahoney is the sheriff of Dane County.
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