Protesters yesterday, May 31, in Fort Myers. (Image: NBC2 News)
So far, Southwest Florida has been spared the destruction and chaos afflicting most of the rest of the country as a result of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. There have been two protests in Fort Myers, both peaceful and lawful and more are scheduled.
The goal of the region’s political leadership and people—regardless of party—should be to allow the expression of legitimate discontent while protecting lives and property and avoiding violence and destruction.
How can that best be done?
Expressions of respect
To ensure domestic tranquility we need to hear that message from officials in authority.
To date, only Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs has issued a statement in the wake of Floyd’s death (produced in full below). It was a commitment to professionalism and justice.
There need to be such statements from every public official in a position of authority in Southwest Florida. As President Donald Trump has shown, words matter—only we need positive expressions right now, not hateful ones.
This is especially true of Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson, who before his run for Congress was a uniter and respected all the communities in his jurisdiction. Sadly, he chose to follow a low road to office in his campaign and that diminishes his credibility. Nonetheless, there was never a time when he has so needed to step up as a leader of his city and show respect for peoples’ concerns and a commitment to justice. If that means jettisoning his congressional ambitions for now, the peace, tranquility and welfare of his city demands it.
The mayors of Cape Coral and Naples, Joe Coviello and Teresa Heitmann, also need to step up and speak out as do all the elected officials—and candidates—in the region.
And if those officials and candidates choose to use the rhetoric of division and hate, that will count toward their final reckonings in August and November.
Commitment to professional policing
Aside from its deeper sources, what happened to George Floyd was the result of unprofessional, undisciplined policing when one officer’s emotionalism overwhelmed rational law enforcement protocols.
People expect unbiased, professional, disciplined, responsive law enforcement. It’s why they pay their taxes.
Chief Diggs made that commitment in his statement. Southwest Florida needs to hear similar commitments from all its other law enforcement chiefs.
At the very least, such expressions will reinforce these principles among their deputies and officers, reassure at least some of the public and serve to maintain the bonds between law enforcement and the people it serves.
Containment of extremism
This is an extraordinarily passionate and emotional time. Extremists can have an outsized effect on events. Fortunately, there seems little inclination to violent extremism in Southwest Florida.
To maintain that atmosphere, it’s important that all influencers spread a message of non-violence. Local leaders of all faiths play an outsized role in this. Their active participation is essential.
From a law enforcement standpoint, objective and unbiased intelligence gathering and surveillance of potentially violent extremists–whatever their beliefs–needs to be robust and active.
Expressions of extremism should receive immediate condemnation. Sadly, one of the worst extremists is President Trump. While no one, it seems, can control him, on the local level thinking people can exert their influence to tamp down more incendiary exhortations—including his.
Every indivdual’s effort
As individuals on the local level, there’s little we can do to influence the broad movements across the nation in real time. But our actions and decisions make a difference.
There is just no substitute for organization and activism. And if making phone calls or participating in Zoom forums or writing letters to the editor isn’t as emotionally satisfying as marching in the street, it’s worth knowing that in the long run it will make a difference.
If the Constitution is followed and we all add our efforts and we have elections as scheduled in August and November, and the count is fair and honest, and if the law is obeyed and power is properly transferred, we do have hope of change and times will get better.
And that will be the best possible legacy to come from the death of George Floyd.
Liberty lives in light
© 2020 by David Silverberg
Full statement of Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs:
Citizens of the City of Fort Myers:
As your Police Chief, I would like to take a moment to address with all of you the recent tragic events involving the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
When I assumed my leadership role with the Fort Myers Police Department four years ago, my primary goal was to build bridges between our police officers and the community we serve by increasing our positive engagement within our city.
I believe this department is well on its way to building those bridges and we remain dedicated to these endeavors.
In my effort to build the community’s trust, I ensure the Fort Myers Police Department continuously provides ongoing training to ensure our officers are current with the ever-changing case law, technology, applied tactical procedures, and attitude regarding fair and impartial policing.
As an agency, we are constantly evolving, learning, and growing. Alongside our community, we have been able to achieve a remarkable decrease in violent crime during the last four-year period.
As a 40-year law enforcement professional, I trust that justice will ultimately be served in Minneapolis against the officers involved in this tragic incident, as their actions or inactions are unacceptable and would not be tolerated in Fort Myers.
With that said, be assured that the Fort Myers Police Department is True to our Community, True to our Commitment, and True to our City.