The National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC) joins the chorus condemning police violence against Black people. We mourn the loss of George Floyd and the appallingly long list of others who were taken too soon and at the hands of the police, and we denounce the violent responses to protests and press from police departments across the nation.
Police legitimacy – the community’s trust, or lack thereof in the police – is central to our work. As an organization focused on violence prevention, it is everything. Research – and our decades of experience on the ground – show clearly that as police legitimacy in a community goes up, violence in that community goes down. In this country, and especially in communities of color, there’s a huge legitimacy gap. Even in communities that experience the most violence, people respect the law, want to be safe, and want to work with the police. But they don’t trust the police or expect them to do the right thing.
George Floyd’s killing cuts particularly deep. The NNSC directed the DOJ’s National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice; Minneapolis was one of the six sites which participated in the full spectrum of procedural justice, implicit bias, and police-community reconciliation work under that initiative; and the city continues to implement our Group Violence Intervention. What we did and are doing in Minneapolis was not sufficient to prevent George Floyd from being killed.
In order to truly build trust and for the community to see police as legitimate, police must understand and acknowledge the historical and present harms to Black communities by police and commit to concrete actions to hold their own accountable and prevent police violence. What we’re seeing right now – produced by our American history, centuries of violence imposed on Black Americans under color of law, and now George Floyd’s killing and violent responses to protests by police departments across the nation – is a legitimacy crisis. It is reinforcing the conviction that the police can’t be trusted, and worse. It is horrifying, and it will make the work of building meaningful public safety immeasurably more difficult in the largely Black communities that already endure unconscionable levels of violence.
We are encouraged by the unprecedented outpouring of condemnations of the killing of George Floyd from national police organizations, police unions, and individual departments. The crisis has challenged us to reflect on the powerful work we do across the country—how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. We are committed to anti-racism and to continuing to work together with communities around the country to reduce violence, build police legitimacy, and strengthen communities.