By Sarah Holder, Bloomberg Businessweek, June 4, 2020
Across the U.S., protesters have taken to the streets to express rage after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. The demonstrations themselves have led to more police shows of force. In Brooklyn, two cops rammed their New York City Police Department SUVs into a crowd of protesters. In Philadelphia, officers sprayed tear gas at demonstrators who were penned in between a highway and a fence.
But across the Delaware River from Philadelphia in Camden, N.J. (population 74,000), officers left the riot gear at home and brought an ice cream truck to a march on May 30. The police department’s chief, Joseph Wysocki, who is white, brandished a “Standing in Solidarity” poster alongside residents holding “Black Lives Matter” signs.
That Camden was able to demonstrate peacefully without escalation looked like a sign of progress in a city that’s one of the country’s poorest and was once considered its most dangerous. “What we’re experiencing today in Camden is the result of many years of deposits in the relationship bank account,” says Scott Thomson, Camden’s chief of police until 2019. He led the city’s high-profile pivot to community policing from 2013 until last year and oversaw what turned out to be a steep decline in crime. Homicides in Camden reached 67 in 2012; the figure for 2019 was 25. Over the past seven years, the department has undertaken some of the most far-reaching police reforms in the country, and its approach has been praised by former President Barack Obama.