One year after George Floyd’s murder communities, law enforcement continue to grapple with healing and progress
MARYLAND – Tuesday marks one year since George Floyd was murdered by former police officer Derek Chauvin. The tragedy impacted not only Minneapolis, but communities around the country. Since then, local law enforcement says they’ve been trying their best to build trust within their communities. “This is a milestone for everyone, including law enforcement,” said Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis.
But some local advocates say they were hoping to see more progress made over the past year. “We have to start getting to know one another. We have to start unconscious bias training, cultural sensitivity training. That’s how we begin to forge a better community,” said President of the Talbot County NAACP Richard Potter. “I don’t think we’ve managed to make as much progress in that part of police reform, as much as we have in just getting the policies and the laws changed.”
Black Lives Matter Boulevard in Salisbury used to be named Broad Street. It’s just one of the tangible changes made on the local level in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. But community advocates say symbolic change and policy change only go so far. Potter says he’s hoping to see more of a meaningful conversation going forward. “Let’s start having these intimate conversations that, I will be honest, they will be difficult. But they have to happen if we are going to move forward as a community,” said Potter.
Potter also says that he hopes to see people move away from comparing Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter. He says that’s because he wants people to understand that Black Lives Matter represents a lived experience, while Blue Lives Matter represents a chosen profession. Potter tells 47ABC comparing the movements only serves to further divide communities. “We’re talking about peoples’ livelihood versus a profession. That parallel that is being drawn is not fair because I haven’t seen a blue person walking around in our country. But I have seen Black and Brown people walking around in our country,” said Potter.
As communities continue to grapple with how to build trust between civilians and law enforcement, and keep police accountable, Potter says having those conversations will be difficult, but necessary. “Both sides have to be put in a place where they’re willing to listen to each other, and there are compromises. That’s what makes America great, is that we have so many people here now with differences of opinion and differences of ideology,” said Potter. “We should be asking ourselves, is this method applicable in the 21st century? Or do we need to take a look at how we do law and order in our country?”
Local law enforcement tells 47ABC they’ve been trying their best to participate in those conversations. Worcester County Sheriff Matt Crisafulli says his department has put a focus on making more of a positive impact on marginalized communities. He says that includes school deputies connecting with young people, meeting and greeting civilians on patrol, and putting on special events to engage the community. We are always going to be here to ensure that we are delivering exceptional law enforcement services to the citizens and visitors of Worcester County,” said Sheriff Crisafulli.
Sheriff Crisafulli says holding himself and his department accountable, while listening to the community, is the only way they can continue to protect and serve in the best way possible. “We need to hear their voices so that we can address their concerns. When we do this on a daily basis, we’ve established trust within our community and we continue this ongoing process,” said Sheriff Crisafulli.
In Wicomico County, Sheriff Lewis says his agency has also been making extra efforts to show up at community events, invite civilians to see how the department operates, and foster relationships. He also says he’s been actively working to recruit more minority police officers. “I’m more than willing to engage our local community, law enforcement executives across the state, and the Maryland Police Training Commission to make sure we do this right. We owe that to the citizens we serve,” said Sheriff Lewis. “I tell my guys and girls in the office to look around. We need to better reflect the community that we serve with people sitting at this table, and we’re trying to do that every single day.”
Sheriff Mike Lewis also says his department had the opportunity to build a brand new facility near Perdue Stadium. But they opted to choose a site on the other side of town. Sheriff Lewis says that way, deputies could be closer to the community where they answer the most calls for service, and strengthen those relationships. “We probably will never be done. But I won’t be done until I’m personally satisfied that I’ve done everything in my power as a 37 year veteran of law enforcement to meet the needs of every single person in this community,” said Sheriff Lewis.