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PROTESTS Lots of respect in Jamestown

The OBSERVER’s View

The Rev. Chloe Smith performed an invaluable public service this weekend organizing a peaceful, thoughtful rally at Dow Park in Jamestown.

Sparked by the thoughtless killing of George Floyd, a helpless black man being arrested for a non-violent offense, by a white police officer in Minnesota last week, the Jamestown rally was different from others in cities nationwide that turned violent.

That is a credit to Smith and the respect she has engendered in the community.

We know, too, that Floyd’s killing is not the first such senseless act that has left us all bewildered, confused and angry. It is unfortunately not likely to be the last. But that realization should not mean that we as a society should dismiss this week’s events as the latest outrage in a society that spends too much time outraged over a variety of matters. The continued behavior of bad actors in our midst must end, and for as much as we respect and value Rev. Smith’s work this weekend, Rev. Smith and the millions of other respected leaders like her in our country need help to stem this tide of tragedy.

We must also take care not to paint all police officers with a broad brush. Not all police officers behave like those who killed George Floyd, just as all police officers are not blameless in using their position to mistreat the people they have sworn an oath to protect.

Listening to Harry Snellings, Jamestown police chief, and Chautauqua County Sheriff James Quattrone answer questions from an upset crowd on Sunday, however, leads one to the realization that the good police officers, the ones who really do believe in protecting and serving everyone, are an invaluable tool in preventing future challenging situations.

Snellings and Quattrone didn’t duck tough questions, tamped down tempers on all sides when things seemed contentious and made clear their desire to work with communities of color to increase their representation in local police forces. They were clear that the tactics that killed Floyd aren’t used by their police agencies. They also made clear that they would welcome additional officer training if funding and manpower were to allow it.

There are going to be a flood of policy suggestions made in the wake of Floyd’s killing — some good and some bad. Policies that encourage transparency in police discipline and complaints could have an effect in weeding out bad police officers who tarnish the badges they worked so hard to attain. Such policies should be passed now. Complaints against officers found to have violated the trust placed in them by the public should be made public. Bad officers should be removed from police departments so they can no longer harm the citizens they swore to protect. Violating the public trust should be given more importance than a union contract.

The officers who are tired of being painted with the broad brush of corruption must take a more active approach to ridding their departments of bad officers. Make complaints. Step in when things are about to go awry.

Doing so will take courage — not the courage to walk into difficult and dangerous situations. It will take the courage of conviction to do the right thing — and it’s a courage that is desperately needed now and in the days ahead of us.

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