At the end of his press conference regarding COVID-19 on Wednesday evening, Gov. Mike Dunleavy changed the subject.
“We've had a situation in the Lower 48, and here in Alaska, in which many of us saw the video in which Mr. Floyd died in police custody,” Dunleavy began. “... The vast majority of us looked at that video — could barely look at that video — and couldn’t help thinking that there was a wrong done. There was an injustice done to that man.”
That injustice, the governor continued, ignited a discussion on how the United States can become better at fulfilling the dream of being a country for everybody. America wasn’t intended to be like other nations. It’s supposed to be built on ideals embracing justice, freedom and the ability to be individual, he said.
“And of course, when we're dealing with human beings, there's fits and starts to this process of making all of us working together to make America a better place for all of us,” Dunleavy said.
The current and ongoing discussion has brought out people exercising their first amendment rights to protest.
“I want to thank each and every Alaskan — I want to thank those young people that put these protests together,” Dunleavy said. “And I'm sincere when I say this because I want to thank them because protesting and voicing your opinion — especially when you've seen injustice — is American. It's Alaskan. It's American too. And there aren't going to be any changes for the good unless we have that dialogue.”
He thanked the organizers again because the events in Alaska have been protests rather than riots.
“And that's how it should be,” Dunleavy said. “We should have a dialogue with each other if we think there's something wrong. We should try and understand the perspective of each other. You know, we're all made in the image of God. We’re all different, too. Different cultures. Different races. Different backgrounds. And we've done pretty good — we could do a lot better — but we've done pretty good in the past 240-some years of trying to become better and better every day. And we’re going to get there.
We’ll get there by working together, listening to others, and trying to understand their perspectives and how they view life, the governor said. Then sit down and think through what we can do as individuals and government.
“Are there things we can do better and differently?” he said. “... That's my hope, and I think the hope of most Alaskans and most Americans is that out of that tragedy comes something better.”
Dunleavy added that he wanted to talk about Alaska’s law enforcement officers.
“Men and women — many of them, when they were young kids, looked up to a police officer,” he said. “Most of them — the vast majority of them that I've ever encountered — all they want to do is help people.”
Dunleavy said officers have told him that when they saw the George Floyd video, “their head sunk.”
“They put their head down because they knew at that moment that there would be a number of folks that would indict all law enforcement officers; paint them all with the same brush. And they knew that it was going to be difficult to perform their job,” the governor said. “They wonder if we support them.”
Dunleavy said he’d like to think Alaskans and Americans “still look upon our law enforcement officers as human beings like we are, which they are. Fathers, brothers, friends that oftentimes lay their life on the line and will run into a difficult situation.
“And the vast majority of times, they run into that difficult situation. ... to help somebody, to save somebody,” he said. “... So as we continue down this road of becoming better people, better politicians, better law enforcement officers, having better dialogue with each other, our neighbors, our friends, people we don't know. I just hope we keep that in mind.
“And protest is not a bad thing, especially when there's an injustice,” he continued. “A riot, looting, hurting people is (a bad thing), and our law enforcement officers right now are wondering where we stand. I just want it to make sure that the folks out there understand that I support our law enforcement officers. I don't support anybody — whether they're in law enforcement, whether they're in politics, whether they're a lawyer, teacher, boy scout, minister — I don't support folks that hurt others, that have disregard for others.”
He said he does not support defunding police.
“As a matter of fact, most Americans do not support that, and understand the value of our law enforcement officers,” Dunleavy said.
He also acknowledged Alaska’s high rates of crime.
“Alaska has some of the worst crime statistics in the country,” Dunleavy said. “We’ve talked about that. This is one of the reasons why I ran for this job is because I know Alaska could be better. And across the board, again, we're going to get better with all of us working together.
Dunleavy concluded his comments by again thanking the organizers of peaceful protests and thanking Alaska’s law enforcement officers for doing the difficult jobs that they have.
“Alaska is a special place, Alaska is a unique place,” he said. “It's really like no other. I think we know that. And I think we could be a model for the rest of this country, and we can show folks how it is to get along.”
Well said, Gov. Dunleavy.