Echoes of a police chief's 'service of love'

In the Minneapolis trial of officer Derek Chauvin, the city’s police chief reminds the court that law enforcement is also seeing “our neighbor as ourselves.”

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Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo at a press briefing in March.

Toward the end of his testimony in the trial of a Minneapolis police officer charged with killing a man during an arrest last May, Chief Medaria Arradondo offered his take on the encounter. The officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on the neck and back of George Floyd, who was already handcuffed and prone on the pavement, for 9 1/2 minutes. “Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped,” the chief said. “That in no way, shape, or form is anything that is set by policy, is part of our training, and is certainly not part of our ethics or values.”

It is highly unusual for a police chief to rebuke an officer so explicitly. Prosecutors hope that his assessment will seal their case. For members of the public who were outraged by the incident, it confirmed their sense of injustice. It may well help obtain a conviction.

But it may not be the most important thing the soft-spoken police chief said on the witness stand. Mr. Arradondo began by characterizing law enforcement as “a service of love”:

“We are oftentimes the first face of government that our communities will see. And we will oftentimes meet them at their worst moments. ... To serve with compassion, to me, means to understand and authentically accept that we see our neighbor as ourselves. We value one another.”

For a society wrestling deeply with myriad manifestations of racism and disquieted by viral incidents of police brutality against Black people in recent years, those words may ring hollow. But they echo a vigorous impulse unfolding in public and private spaces to make amends and heal divides. In other words, to value one another.

In Illinois, for example, Evanston has become the first U.S. city to administer a type of reparation to its Black citizens. Having established a $10 million fund two years ago, it is now starting to provide grants of up to $25,000 for down payments on houses, mortgage relief, or home remodeling. To be eligible, residents must show that their families were harmed by discriminatory policies between 1919 and 1969.

A similar effort is underway in Manhattan Beach, a community of Los Angeles County that is striving to address the legacies of its segregated past. A century ago, the area had a thriving Black community anchored by a Black-owned resort that hosted a vibrant interracial social scene. Spurred on by white neighbors and racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, the city invoked eminent domain to scatter the Black residents and confiscate their land for meager compensation to build a public park. That action deprived Black families of land that is now worth millions of dollars. The City Council is now debating how to redress that injustice.

Meanwhile, Black surfers have returned to Manhattan Beach – and a notoriously territorial local surf community has become the setting for racial reconciliation. Last summer, after the killings of Mr. Floyd and other African Americans, surfers organized “paddle-outs” to gather past the break and show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. It happened again recently. After two Black surfers faced aggression and racist taunts in the water, they organized a “peace paddle” on social media. More than 200 surfers showed up.

“There was so much peace and love at that paddle,” said Justin Howze, one of the two organizers, told Sunset. “‘Localism’ and ‘locals only’ are terms that are really just saying no black people or people that don’t live here. We proved it’s sharable.”

Prosecution and punishment of racist violence are necessary to heal society. But step by step, the ugliness of racism is being replaced by a commitment to shared humanity, and the "service of love." 

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