Divided We Fall: Creating a Constructive Dialogue

“When I first saw the video, I thought it was egregious. We as a division at the department watched it together and not only did we all feel that it came to the same conclusion as it being egregious but that it was also criminal”

The death of George Floyd has sparked outrage throughout the country. A man had lost his life due to four police officers who were fired shortly after. Only one has been arrested.

Almost every major city in America has had some form of protest or riot break out since Floyd’s death.

A lot of videos throughout social media depict riots everywhere you look, but it is also fair to look at many peaceful protests that took place as well over the weekend. Police Officers in some parts even joined in the protest.

The divide in this country is strong. I myself, looked for ways that I could help the situation at hand. I felt the best way I could help was to bring people on both sides of the aisle that were involved in this together.

So I went to the source. I sat down with Detective, Mike Spremulli, and Police Chief, Bill Nebus of the East Providence Police department to ask them what they saw in the video of Floyd’s murder, as well as proper protocol to handle difficult situations.

I then spoke with two ethnic minorities. Our own Chris Infante, of the Flippin the Birds Podcast, and Dwight Spencer, a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) for their own views.

My goal was to see just how steep this divide was in this country between officers and the citizens they swear to protect. This article is a cut-up version. To hear the full interviews, tune into the Birds in Focus Podcast here:

On the death of George Floyd

Detective Spremulli: “When I first saw the video, I thought it was egregious. We as a division at the department watched it together and not only did we all feel that it came to the same conclusion as it being egregious but that it was also criminal. It’s not something that we have been taught. It’s not something that should be done, and to be honest with you in 22 years of police work, I have never seen anyone do that.”

Police Chief Nebus: “Just because you’re in a police officers position, you’re still human. It’s unfortunate the outcome of this situation and even more unfortunate was the calm manner the officer used to describe the situation…that’s not a proper reform measure to take.”

Chris Infante: “In a word: despicable. For me personally, it hit two ways.It hit me as a minority…there was no way for me to hear anything that deserved that course of action. The second way this hit me was because I’m in a NYPD family. My father served in the NYPD for 29 years…to see another horrible despicable cop tarnished what the real great officers go through every day”

Dwight Spencer: “When I first saw the video, I couldn’t believe my eyes. To hear the events that happened during and after were quite disheartening. It’s an on-going issue that is slowly coming off. More light is being shed on this issue to have the minorities to have their voices heard more.

What should have happened?

Spremulli: “The first thing you should always do is descalate the situation. Hands-on is always the last approach. You try to talk the person down. Try to get their version of events. Try to get them to talk to you. You should never go to a hands-on situation.”

Nebus: “To me cops are inherently lazy. I don’t mean that in a bad way but they would rather get the job done with the least amount of force required. They’d rather go out and not have to arrest anybody during their shift. They would love to go through their shift with doing community kind of resource actions….you ask, how do you bridge the gap is exactly that: you care….the bottom line is caring. And if you care about each call you go on then your job becomes easier.”

Infante: “That knee on the neck did not expedite George Floyd’s underlying condition. That knee suffocated him and it killed him. The office charged had an agenda with him. The other officers should have stepped in and said ‘nope there are other ways to restrain him….restrain him the correct way.”

Is this a case of a few bad apples or is there a systemic problem?

Spencer: “I do believe it’s a system that is the cause of the problem. I believe there is a clear divide between white officers and individuals in ethnic minority communities. Some people get afraid of what the consequence may be when they see a white police officer and the interaction they have. I do think that this is a system we have in place and I don’t think it’s a democrat vs. republican thing….it’s a systematic thing that needs to be addressed between communities of color and law enforcement agencies.”

Spremulli: “I have been around where officers have been prosecuted. I’ve testified where cops have been deemed to have done illegal or unethical things. As police officers we’re held to a higher standard.And we should be held to a higher standard because you’re given a lot of power to go out and do this job. With that comes a lot of responsibility. There’s nobody that good cops hate more than bad cops. You have to uphold the oath that you took. And when you don’t do that, to me, it’s worse than some of the criminals out there do.”

With protests and riots going on in the city, how should they be handled by the police?

Spremulli: “There’s a difference between protests and riots. I think everyone has the right to peacefully protest. From a personal standpoint, I don’t blame them for protesting this incident. Like I said, this was an egregious act and was criminal. Probably 99.9% of officers feel the same way. I feel this could have been an opportunity to bridge the gap between police officers and the communities that have been affected. On this particular case we are all in agreement. We all agree the officers should have been prosecuted. Dealing with protesters and rioters are different. Rioter’s goal is not to go out there and get justice. The goal is to go out there and be disruptive and to create problems. We wouldn’t allow people to come in and have their livelihood and businesses destroyed not because of the Floyd murder but to create problems.”

Nebus: “If a problem is perceived than the problem is real. If the police feel there isn’t a divide in the community but the community feels there is one, it’s up to the police to fix that.”

Infante: “I think that you see some officers supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and walking around arm in arm with the protesters. In other cities the officers are meeting them with weapons. The protests turned to riots with the response to what they are greeted with. You saw Camden, of all places, had officers join with the protesters. If you are an officer and you treat the protesters as such, you’ll see a more peaceful approach. It turns to riots when the protesters see the riot shields and tear gases, and cars plowed through crowds. They see officers go after them before they do anything then it turns to riots because they feel targeted.”

Spencer: “So in Miami there was a peaceful protest yesterday that turned into a riot. The Mayor stated in a press conference that police won’t come out in riot gear. They will instead be of assistance and aid to the peaceful protests. But particularly there was a few bad apples that came into the community and we’ll try to cause harm to police cars…what I say to that is those individuals who are inciting violence should be met with the full extent of the law. You have a right to have your voice heard but your voice should be heard that does not disrupt the livelihood of others. With the pandemic cities and states are slowly reopening yet you have these individuals who set businesses on fire and all you are doing is prolonging a pandemic that is now turning from a health ad justice crisis that I believe it is in the police’s right to make an example of those that are causing harm.”

White athletes spoke out against the Floyd murder around the country. Do you feel as professional athletes they should protest the situation?

Spremulli: “Absolutely. Everyone has the right to protest as long as it’s not violating someone else’s rights. I can understand there is anger behind this incident. They have every right to come out and express their opinion.”

Spencer: “There is the age old cliche. Sports bridge the gap and become that safe haven for people to get their mind off things. We need these influences because people look at these players as role models. The fact that athletes speak out against these injustices actually I believe is a good thing to look up to their role models. They actually care about the injustices that are going on.”

Is there a difference between what athletes like Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz are saying as opposed to what Colin Kaepernick is saying?

Spremulli: ” I saw the most recent tweet that he was encouraging the riots and not just the protests. It was far different than other comments like what Ben Watson was saying. Watson wasn’t divisive but educational. It’s that difference that I see that are bringing an issue to what is an injustice.”

Infante: “I think there is a difference. the way that other athletes are talking now was what Colin’s original message was. If Colin wasn’t ridiculed or sent out of the league because of it,we probably wouldn’t have had an issue now. What Colin is saying now is that you didn’t listen before and now we need to take action. That’s different from what Carson or Zach are saying because both don’t see the point in burning down businesses.At the same time, what action is going to be taken with businesses that have nothing to do with the issue itself. I understand the fires that are starting are not necessarily the protesters themselves. When you see athletes like Colin saying to keep rioting it is a little disheartening because you see a guy who worked so hard to do the right thing when he knelt but don’t say to destroy cities because it opens up more problems. You can’t fix institutional racism in a burning building. More athletes though are speaking to his original message though.”

Spencer: “I believe they are all in the same boat. Colin has a bit more leverage because people see hi as a civil rights activist. I believe that all these athletes are in the same boat. Their words are the same even if it is demonstrated differently but they all have the same meaning. In the case of Colin he’s been raising this issue for years now, but regardless ones message of the other they all ring the same message.”

What would be your message to the country?

Spencer: “My message would be to listen and learn. A lot of these riots in the past have stemmed from a sense of anger and I believe it’s ok to be angry. There has to come a time where you listen and learn. There’s a reason why these demonstrations are taking place. As a black African young male I don’t believe that saying Black Lives Matter on social media is enough. We need to become leaders and listen and learn from what others are saying right now.”

Spremulli: “Back to what I said earlier: 99.9% of the police officers are good. They try to do the right thing. To a person, everyone that I have spoken to, everyone I have heard from condemns these actions. I have not seen anyone supportive of the murder of Floyd…..You have the right to critique, the right to question but they should also understand that those actions of the officers in Minnesota are not indicative of the rest of the officers outside of there. When it turns to violence that’s where it has to stop.

Nebus: “We care as a community. We want this problem resolved. We want the perceptions to go away. We don’t want to be generalized and we don’t want to generalize others. Whatever we can do to bridge this gap we will do it.”

Infante: “We are in a country that has opened the door to immigrants. We are a melting pot of ideas but the The American Dream doesn’t come back until conversations happen and people start understanding each other more….racism won’t end until we have conversations about these issues. If you know someone doesn’t like you because of the color of your skin then talk to them. Sit and have the conversation with them and talk.”

Starting a dialogue between officers and the people they swear to protect is the first step of making a change. Let this episode of the Birds in Focus be not something that tells you what or how to think, but gets the conversation going in how best to improve the society we live in.

First above all else is treating others the way you want to be treated. “The Golden Rule” is something that we all learn when we are little, yet most forget it as life goes on. During this difficult time in our countries history, I feel it’s more important than ever that the Golden Rule is highlighted and followed once again.

 Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY NETWORK

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