From Rhode Island to Tennessee, police misconduct remains rampant
Anchor Staff Writer
Nearly three years since the George Floyd protests erupted across the United States, city and state governments have enacted inch-by-inch reforms to placate the country’s indignant populace. In the face of complete federal inaction, they’ve sporadically enacted chokehold limits, advisory boards and any other means in which to avoid the unpleasant reality of confronting a broken policing system. Yet, incidents in Rhode Island and across the nation have continued to shatter the rose-tinted view of post-Floyd policing.
A jury found Pawtucket police officer Daniel Dolan Jr. not guilty of felony assault Thursday after a tumultuous two year legal battle. The incident occurred in June 2021, when an off-duty Dolan followed Dominic Vincent, an 18-year-old Rhode Islander speeding on the I-95, into a Wicked Good Pizza parking lot in West Greenwich. Dolan exited his vehicle as Vincent began to reverse in the opposite direction. Dolan then quickly produced his service weapon and fired into Vincent’s vehicle, striking him.
Despite Vincent’s claims that he was picking up a pizza and startled when Dolan chased and confronted him, Dolan’s defense argued that he only exited his vehicle to have a “fatherly chat” with Vincent. Ultimately, once placed in the hands of the jury, Dolan was acquitted of all charges. Thus, according to the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, he will now receive pay while suspended pending internal investigations, will receive back pay and will soon return to the force. This is despite his instigation of the provocation, his unregistered automobile containing an open alcohol container and his lack of jurisdiction in the area. Vincent, being an ordinary American citizen, will receive nothing.
Then-Gov. Gina Raimondo, in response to the protests in 2020, worked with police departments to encourage body camera use and increase anti-bias training, among other minor alterations to practices. These diminutive and ineffective changes to policing in Rhode Island, though noble virtue signals, could not save Vincent from his gunshot wound. They could not save Jhamal Gonsalves from his life-changing injuries, when he was run down by a Providence police officer while riding his moped and put into a coma, receiving no justice in the end. They, too, will fail to save Rhode Island’s next victim of police misconduct.
Southwest of Rhode Island, similar scenes are playing out with radically different consequences. In Memphis, Tennessee, 29-year-old Tyre Nichols died three days after a traffic stop involving five Memphis Police Department officers. In the released body camera footage, the officers can be seen removing Nichols from his vehicle under the pretense of “reckless driving.” After removing and subduing Nichols, the officers repeatedly tased, pepper sprayed and beat him with fists and batons, at one point restraining him while the officers took turns striking him until he went limp. Nichols could do nothing but beg for his life as the responding officers bragged about “landing haymakers” on him. He was admitted to a local hospital afterwards, where he died three days later from injuries stemming from the assault.
Speaking to CNN, Nichol’s mother described her son’s “beautiful soul” and the way he would bring positivity with him everywhere he went, always entering their home with a smile and a “Hello, parents.” She also detailed how responding officers “beat him to a pulp,” and her attorney Benjamin Crump recounts that Nichol’s final words were “gut-wrenching screams for his mom.” Echoing analogues to the murder of Floyd, cities across the nation are already on high alert for protest activity and even President Biden has released a preliminary statement urging peaceful protest and calm.
Tennessee’s post-Floyd policing changes consisted of increased training, recruitment of officers and increased police funding, paltry attempts even compared to Raimondo’s reforms. Despite any perceived good intentions of community safety, a Tennessean mother is without a son, families are left fatherless after the arrests of the five officers involved and the wheel of police brutality remains in motion, continuing to crush civilians caught underneath.
Observing the immediate results we have today, one would be led to believe that the increased awareness of police misconduct has been for naught. Beyond the sporadic and local level changes brought to community policing, incidents like Vincent and Nichol’s encounters remain rampant and the United States continues to lead the world in arrests and incarceration. Simply put, this does not mean that demanding justice is a fool’s errand.
The incremental revisions of local policing practices, though limited, each bring necessary guardrails designed to protect citizens from miscarriages of justice from the police, and the increased societal awareness is paramount to ensuring justice for past and future victims. These, however, cannot be the zenith of efforts in pushback from society. Americans must look this crisis in the eye, loudly appeal for justice for all caught in the web of police brutality and demand a revolutionary reinvention of our policing and justice systems from our state and federal officials. Otherwise, parents will continue to bury their children, as we continue to wring our hands and wonder why nothing can be done.