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Letter to the Editor - The Millerton News - 6-18-20

A letter in response to Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy’s guest column from last week’s Millerton News

As a response to the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests across the nation, your guest column seems more part of the problem than part of the solution. One might expect Sheriff Murphy, speaking on behalf of his colleagues, to offer something besides a defensive screed. 

He begins by calling Floyd’s murder “a great injustice” and immediately pivots to attacking the sometimes violent reaction as an “excuse to commit other senseless, brutal acts, which unjustly deprive more innocent people of their lives…” ignoring the fact that protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful. Follows a description of police as upholders of the right to peacefully protest (with no mention of the numerous exceptions to this characterization), with another pivot to a demonization of violent protesters, who turn peaceful protests into opportunities to “assault, murder, loot, burn and spread anarchy.” 

The words he reserves for politicians are even worse than those used for the “officer who unjustifiably took the life of George Floyd.” Because they talk about “systemic racism,” politicians are accused of “disgusting conduct, which itself fuels racism on all sides.” Systemic racism is an evidence-based fact, stemming from our history of slavery and its legacy. As for “racism on all sides,” no. Racism is an ideology based on the idea of white superiority, needed to justify slavery, and on flawed science. There is no functioning ideology of black racism, no “black supremacy.” 

The sheriff goes on to make the preposterous charge that politicians accuse all police officers in the U.S. of racism, because of the actions of one! He does to “the politicians” what he accuses them of doing to the police: “sowing hatred and distrust… with… irresponsible rhetoric.” Most politicians reflect their constituents, and the murder of George Floyd was one of many, “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” seen on video. How many went unseen? THAT is why people are up in arms. 

Finally, and perhaps most problematically, the sheriff acknowledges bad community relations, but blames “the false view of police as the oppressors which has been inculcated into many minority communities, and which allows opportunists to take advantage of such things as the George Floyd tragedy to foment more hatred and more chaos.” 

Minority communities’ distrust of the police goes back decades, when police enforced segregation and facilitated lynching; slave patrols even formed the basis for modern day police departments. And police in the modern era have done little to earn community trust. The sheriff boasts of “training… recognizing implicit bias,” something he has not shown himself able to do, when he blames outside agitators and politicians for bad community relations, while ignoring the systemic, brutality, corruption and racism of his own institution. 

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Sheriff Murphy’s column is that it would seem to be, itself, an example of the “blue wall of silence” that shelters police misconduct, without which, George Floyd might still be alive today, thanks to three officers free to act swiftly and in concert.

Jacques F. Houis


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