EDITORIAL: Important change takes time

Protesters Monday night in Schenectady
Protesters Monday night in Schenectady

When citizens determine that important change is necessary, they want it to happen yesterday. And when it doesn’t happen right away, they get upset.

Who can blame them?

But change worth having doesn’t always come easily, quickly.

Police reform is one of those changes. And it’s not as simple as just amending arrest procedures.

It also involves a more complex set of factors: a historic pattern of racism by police toward minorities; a fundamental mistrust of police by some communities; law enforcement and government bureaucracies that’s historically resistant to change; differing perceptions of the problem by law enforcement, civic organizations, human rights groups, racial and ethnic groups and other individual members of the community; governmental procedure; the legal and judicial systems; and other factors.

A change as challenging as police reform in the wake of the George Floyd killing is worth having, and therefore worth the time and effort it takes to work it out.

City and police officials in Schenectady have demonstrated a willingness to meet with the various interests and to listen and act on their concerns.

After the initial George Floyd protests last month, the city immediately put into place new standards for arrest procedures to stop some of the more violent techniques, such as arresting officers placing their knee on suspects’ throats.

Then — after a city officer was captured on videotape trying to arrest an uncooperative tire-slashing suspect by placing his knee on the man’s head and neck area — city officials proposed more changes.

They included a ban on head holds, a pledge to boost training for officers to learn to de-escalate situations involving potential suspects before they get out of hand, and reforms to the Civilian Police Review Board that include more community input.

More importantly, they vowed to continue the dialog with community groups and others seeking change.

Of course, many of these changes and reforms should have been put into place long ago. But systemic changes of this magnitude don’t happen overnight.

Officials have to balance protecting the rights and health of criminal suspects with their overall mission to ensure public safety and enabling officers to do their jobs effectively and safely.

As long as law enforcement and government officials continue to be responsive and open, and as long as citizens continue to push them in the right direction through constructive communication and peaceful protest, the change everyone so desperately wants will happen.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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