The Michigan sheriff showing America’s cops that escalation is not the only way
It was one of the most remarkable images of policing that I have seen in America.
And for a change it wasn’t about brutality, provocation, or death.
At the very end of May, at the height of the unrest sweeping American cities, the county sheriff here in Flint chose a different path.
Faced with a protest march that was heading to his police station, he decided not to confront the angry activists, but to join them.
He changed sides.
Sheriff Chris Swanson put down his baton.
He ordered his officers to discard their shields and helmets and to talk to the protesters.
He did more than show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
He gave American police departments right across the country an alternative to confrontation.
Showing vulnerability, he told ITV News, is a sign of strength not weakness.
It hadn’t started out that way on that volatile Friday evening.
At first, as tensions rose following the death of George Floyd, Sheriff Swanson was preparing a traditional response to the unrest.
He was going to meet force with force.
But when he saw the faces of the young black men he suddenly changed his mind.
He told them he was on their side, and announced: “I want to make this a parade, not a protest.”
It was a moment that transformed the mood.
And the Sheriff went a step further - and asked the protesters what else they wanted.
“March with us!” they replied.
So he did.
Sheriff Swanson had formed a bond with the protesters, dramatically changing the dynamics on these streets.
And so while across America fury was building and cities were burning, Flint was untouched - and not a single arrest was made.
From what we are seeing here in Flint, the impact has been real.
The sheriff is now being treated like the city’s guardian.
Citizens are literally embracing him.
He was hugged by passers-by as he took us on patrol.
Instead of hostility, this city - which is 85% black - is proud of its white sheriff.
Sheriff Swanson tells me the solution to America’s policing crisis is to be ruthless with racist officers.
They must be identified and rooted out, one by one, and then sacked and prosecuted.
One sheriff has led the way In defusing tension and in practicing de-escalation.
Now the other 18,000 police departments - indeed all of America’s 800,000 cops - must decide whether to follow in Sheriff Swanson’s footsteps.