I wish Cariol Horne was on the scene when Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. If so, George Floyd may be alive today. There is a very high possibility that had Horne been there in 2020, an effort would have been made on her part to stop Chauvin. While Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting. There are times it is necessary for the police to police themselves.
Former Buffalo, New York, Police Officer Cariol Horne, who is Black, was in a very similar situation in 2006. She intervened to break up a confrontation between Greg Kwiatkowski, a fellow White officer, and a Black suspect named Neal Mack involving a chokehold.
“Neal Mack looked like he was about to die,” she stated in 2020. “So had I not stepped in, he possibly could have. He was handcuffed and being choked.”
While Mack contends the officer saved his life, Horne was terminated when it was determined that her use of force was unjustified. She was fired from the Buffalo Police Department two months before being eligible to receive her full pension.
Waterloo, Iowa is a city of 67,000 residents and has a long history of tensions between the police and the city’s Black community. The Black community makes up 17% of the city population. On June 1, 2020, Joel Fitzgerald became the first Black police chief in Waterloo. Soon after being sworn in as chief, the reform-minded Fitzgerald supported numerous changes. The changes, which are meant to transform the department, include the banning of chokeholds, outlawing racial profiling, requiring officers to intervene if they see excessive force, and investigating all complaints of misconduct. Along with the efforts to improve policing came the expected backlash. Current and former officers are not only opposing the reforms, but fighting the removal of the police insignia which resembles a Ku Klux Klan dragon.
Waterloo is no different than most other police departments. The clash between an entrenched blue culture versus the changes needed to hold officers accountable is a main reason many reform-minded officers are leaving. Blue culture shows how the law enforcement community has a tendency to band together in face of scrutiny and calls for systemic change. Many officers have the integrity, character and ethics to fully serve the public according to their sworn oath. Cariol Horne reminds us of that fact.
But the blue culture can be deadly. Derek Chauvin has proven that fact. When people claim to support the police, what type of officers are they supporting? When police reforms are implemented, thereby empowering the Cariol Horne- type officer we are more likely to have Neal Mack-type suspects (lives saved). When those who promote the police status quo, thereby empowering the Derek Chauvin-type officer we are more likely to have the George Floyd-type suspects (lives taken).
Many of those who support the police status quo believe that incidents of police misconduct are just isolated and not part of a wider problem. Those who believe that misconception tend to overlook the fact that police departments nationwide have their share of officers of low character with no integrity. Usually, incidents of wrongdoing by an individual officer is not isolated on their part. Greg Kwiatkowski, after his encounter with Cariol Horne, was later sentenced to four months in federal prison in 2018 for using “unlawful and unreasonable force” against four Black teenagers. In October 2021, the mayor of Buffalo signed the Duty to Intervene law, which requires police to step in if a fellow officer uses excessive force. This shows that the heart of police reform really comes down to good police officers protecting citizens from bad police officers.
During the same month in which the new law was signed, Horne filed a lawsuit to overturn her 2008 termination. A New York state judge ultimately ruled in her favor. Horne’s pension of approximately $800,000 was reinstated. In an 11-page opinion, the judge quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, saying, “The time is always right to do right.”
Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization TRB: The Reconciled Body and author of the book “God Bless Our Divided America.”