As national unrest over police brutality ravages cities across the United States, some officers are joining protesters in solidarity.
Protests in the U.S., Canada and Europe broke out after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest made over possible counterfeit currency.
The protests, some of which have been violent, have prompted varying police responses across the country, including incidents where they were criticized for use of force. In New York, a woman said she suffered a concussion after a police officer violently pushed her and she fell onto the pavement. Video surfaced of an NYPD officer appearing to pull down a man’s mask and pepper-spray him while he had his hands up. But in certain states, some officers have chosen a different path.
Outside of a North Dakota police station, photos of a white officer helping several protesters hold up a sign that says, “ONE RACE, THE HUMAN RACE”, have emerged.
And in Flint, Mich., Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson put his helmet and baton down to join protesters.
In an interview with Global News, he said Americans — specifically Black Americans — were at a “boiling point of frustration” with police, and “it’s understandable.”
When recalling Saturday’s protest, he said the crowd changed from what Swanson described as “rage and hostility” the moment he put down his weapon and began listening to the protesters.
“We have to police ourselves. We can’t turn what’s wrong into a right,” he said.
“Let the people know you understand them. Listen to what they have to say. That’s what they want.”
Video from the protest on Saturday showed Swanson high-fiving and hugging protesters, eventually marching with them in support.
“The only reason we’re here is to make sure you have a voice, and that’s it. Don’t think for a second that (Chauvin) represents who these cops are from all over the county and around this nation,” Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson told the crowd.
After asking protesters what they wanted him to do, they replied with three words: walk with us.
“I want to make this a parade, not a protest,” Swanson told them. “Let’s walk.”
“All (protesters are) asking for is a voice and dignity for all, no matter who you are,” Swanson said later.
In Camden, N.J., videos surfaced of its county police Chief Joe Wysocki marching alongside protestors holding a banner that reads, “STANDING IN SOLIDARITY.”
”We know that together we are stronger, we know that together, in the city of Camden, we can create a space where policing is focused on deescalation and dialogue,” he said in an emailed statement to Global News.
But Black Lives Matter New Jersey called the efforts of those standing in solidarity with police an act of “disrespect” to the “countless” Black men, women and children killed in encounters with police.
“There are no words that can express the amount of disgust at the sight of people falsely amplifying solidarity with the police as an image of peace to aspire to in the midst of system and institutional violence enacted against Black people,” they said in a statement to Global News.
“Black people, now is time more than ever to lean on each other and take responsibility for protecting and supporting each other as best we can.”
They criticized the actions of officers in Camden, claiming they capitalized off of what they described as “Black trauma.”
“It does a disservice to continue such a dangerous narrative as police are actively brutalizing and killing Black people as we speak,” they said.
Chauvin, who has now been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, has become the catalyst for demonstrations across North America, with protesters demanding an end to police brutality against Black communities.
Prior to his arrest, Chauvin had a known history of using excessive force. He was named in several cases that led to the deaths of at least two other persons-of-colour and was the subject of nearly 20 complaints prior to his dismissal on Tuesday.
Floyd died gasping for air and pleading for help in Minneapolis on Monday. His final words were, “I can’t breathe.”