I can’t count the number of crime scenes I’ve walked around over the past 30 years, or the autopsies I’ve observed, or the innumerable pages of gruesome crime photos I’ve reviewed.
But I can count the number of times I quickly looked away because I was so sickened by what I saw. That number is one.
That one time was when I re-watched the video of the death of George Floyd.
It wasn’t just the horror of it all. It also was the image of both the alleged murderer, Derek Chauvin, and the apparent cowardice of the officers who surrounded him.
To survive as a prosecutor for as long as I have, I’ve had to let go of all of the dreadful images that came with each case as soon as it was resolved, or I couldn’t go on to the next one.
I know this is one image that I will never forget, one I should never forget, not just because of how gruesome and horrible it is, but because it depicts the antithesis of justice, and justice is the paramount goal of our law enforcement profession.
The law enforcement officers I’ve come to know would wholeheartedly risk their lives to save George Floyd.
I am not naive; I know, there are “bad cops”, just as there are “the bad” in every profession.
And as in every profession, I also know there are people who are racist, or at least engage in racial profiling.
Still, it’s one thing to know it, and another thing to see the men who circled Mr. Floyd. That image is grotesque, and their apparent actions and inactions are despicable.
Still, I’ve seen grotesque and despicable images over and over again. What makes this so unforgettable is how inconsistent it is with the profession I have grown to admire.
There isn’t an officer I’ve spoken to in the past several days who isn’t devastated by this same image.
The officers I’ve come to know are warriors who seek evil, and now they are cut to their very core to see it in their own uniform.
Many have observed this video and said they were not the least bit surprised.
Those same people would say that this is how people of color have always been treated, and that now the only difference is that there are cell phones capable of recording these horrific images.
In the past, we have all seen similar images, but to some they were always blurry, taken from a distance or an obscure angle, and there were always multiple possible explanations.
Here there appears to be only one.
I am only speaking about what I have seen, as a prosecutor, over the past three decades, and that is first responders seeking to save lives and avoid death, at all personal cost.
The fact that most of us who have seen this video are shocked by it is appropriate, because it should shock us, But we can’t stop there. We must do more.
At a very minimum, we must support our public safety officers who are seeking justice for all, and hold all criminals, regardless of their affiliations or professions, including officers, accountable for their criminal acts.
— Joyce Dudley is Santa Barbara County’s district attorney for Santa Barbara County and chairwoman of the state Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training (POST). The opinions expressed are her own.