Thursday, July 18, 2024

A year ago, Cambridge Police Department commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. described George Floyd’s death as “the result of depraved indifference.” This is not a universal opinion among police in the United States – for example, there’s Lt. Randy Sutton, formerly of the Las Vegas police. Sutton is a media personality: a spokesperson for Blue Lives Matter, columnist for Police Magazine and frequent interviewee on TV news channels.

Here is what Sutton told BBC News about Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of Floyd:

It’s pretty frustrating to be a police officer or a police veteran these days. It is guilt presumed before innocence … The testimony that George Floyd had no carotid artery damage was very compelling to me. This would indicate that he was not suffocated via the neck.

Here in Cambridge, we learned about the views of Lt. Shawn Lynch of the CPD, who considers Black Lives Matter to be a violent hate group and cheered violent attacks on protesters. He shares these views with Sutton, who in a column in Police Magazine described BLM as terrorists, warned in the New York Post that holding police accountable for violence would bring about anarchy and tyranny and last summer on Fox News called for police to use lethal force against protesters.

Lynch was part of the Cambridge police for many years. It’s unlikely he is the only one to embrace Sutton’s perspective. So what does the CPD really believe?

To answer this question, we can turn to CPD’s cadet program, which trains potential police officers even before they begin the standard application process. As such, it can show us the policing worldview our police department is attempting to instill.

This year’s cadet program is open for applications. Applicants are required to read a book, “True Blue: Police Stories by Those Who Have Lived Them,” that was compiled by none other than Sutton. While the stories are from many different police officers, he chose the stories, categorized them and wrote the introduction. The book was shaped and structured by Sutton’s views of policing.

I wrote to our police department about its choice in August; it had seven months to find a replacement book, and chose to stick with Sutton. The message is clear: Even if its leadership disagrees with him about specific incidents, our police department still embraces Sutton’s perspective. So it’s not surprising that whenever the CPD is involved in an unnecessary and violent incident, it will never admit wrongdoing: As long as officers are following procedures, violence is not a problem.

The broad acceptance of Sutton’s views, including by Cambridge police, reflects policing’s fundamental orientation toward violence, embedded in everything from procedures to training. As a result, meaningful police reform seems unlikely.

Even if reform were possible, policing would still be ineffective and futile. Evidence for this can even be found in Sutton’s book: stories by the more self-aware officers lament their inability to help the victims they encounter, and how little they can do to prevent future tragedies.

It’s time for better alternatives. We need to cut the police’s bloated budget and spend that money on more effective and humane institutions.

Itamar Turner-Trauring, Oxford Street