SAN DIEGO – As protesters take to the streets this week in the name of George Floyd, it can be easy to forget some of the officers patrolling those spaces are black.
“To have people in your face really giving it to you like, ‘Why aren’t you here with us? Don’t you believe in what we believe in?’ — that’s tough,” said Lt. Ben Kelso, a longtime San Diego Police Department officer and president of the San Diego Black Police Officers Association.
Kelso grew up near Detroit. He remembers black officers coming into his neighborhood to establish relationships with members of the community.
Three decades later, he’s now doing the same thing.
“You come into this profession for noble reasons,” Kelso said. “It’s a noble profession. It’s a great profession. I’ve been doing it for 30 years.”
But the profession has come under fire in the past few years, most recently for the May 25 police killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old Minneapolis man who was pinned to the ground at the neck by a police officer’s knee for nearly nine minutes. Floyd was memorialized in a ceremony Thursday in Minneapolis while the officer who pinned him to the ground, Derek Chauvin, and three other officers are facing charges for their involvement.
Floyd’s death already has sparked a number of reforms, including local police departments doing away with use of the carotid restraint. On Friday, the Carlsbad Police Dept. said it’s enacted eight policies spelled out by national campaign designed to prevent excessive use of force on the part of law enforcement.
Kelso said what’s happening right now with the protests is unlike anything he’s seen before.
“I really do think this moment really is a particular moment of change,” he said. “I think agencies are asking, ‘Can we do this better?'”
He said the association is in favor of police reforms, something San Diego City Council soon will consider more fully with the creation of an Independent Police Practices Commission to review community complaints of police misconduct and recommend reforms.
The measure is expected to be put to a vote June 23.