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‘How we honor George Floyd’s life, and countless others’

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The conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd is a step in the right direction, but it’s just that – a step in the right direction.

“Today’s verdict will never bring George Floyd back into the arms of his family and loved ones. We cannot forget that we will never get true, full justice, until we take action to change the system that took Mr. Floyd’s life, and impacted countless other Black Americans, like Lt. Caron Nazario and Donovan Lynch here in Virginia. Too many of us have been hurt and harmed when the cameras have been off or pointed away,” said Jennifer Carroll Foy, one of two African American women running for the Democratic Party nomination for governor in Virginia.

Carroll Foy’s political career started when she grew frustrated as a public defender recognizing that people are more likely to go to jail if they were “poor and innocent than wealthy and guilty,” she told us in an interview earlier this year.

“As a public defender, I’ve seen how our broken system works well for the wealthy and well-connected, and works against Black and other marginalized communities,” Carroll Foy said Tuesday in the wake of the verdict in the Chauvin case. “For too long, bad actors at all levels of government have not been held accountable – from policing to healthcare disparities, economic inequality, corruption, and so much more.

“We can’t wait any longer for action, and we must acknowledge we got to this place because of a broken system that wasn’t meant to work for Black and brown communities. Now, I encourage everyone to peacefully join in the hard work of pushing for action and accountability, and to take care of yourselves in the days and months to come,” Carroll Foy said.

“Action,” “accountability,” “take care of yourselves.”

What she’s saying here reinforces that the Chauvin conviction is just a step in the right direction – a baby step at that.

Black parents aren’t going to suddenly have another talk with their teen-age sons and daughters to correct the record, hey, what we told you before about not driving a mile an hour over the speed limit, to make sure your brake lights are in proper order, that if a police officer approaches you at a store to ask if you stole something, say yes, sir, yes, ma’am, defuse the situation, that’s all in the past now.

The conviction of Chauvin, the acknowledgement that the state doesn’t actually sanction 9 minutes and 29 seconds of a knee to the back of a neck of a man being sought for questioning as to whether or not he might have passed a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store, isn’t all that extraordinary, when you look at the particulars.

Do we see a conviction in this case if bystanders hadn’t shot cell-phone video to document what happened? We all know the answer to that one.

That this happened in full view of a crowd of people in broad daylight is remarkable in that it’s clear that Chauvin didn’t fear any repercussions, but are we supposed to presume that cases that don’t happen in front of large crowds in broad daylight are going to magically go away now that there’s a high-profile conviction on the record?

“The work toward true accountability is only beginning,” said Jennifer McClellan, the other of the two African-American women running for the Democratic Party nomination for governor. “In Virginia, we’ve been reminded all too recently of the inequity in our justice system. We have made progress in the past year to reform our police and justice system, including banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants, but when a Black Army lieutenant is met with pepper spray and a gun to his face simply because of a license plate, it’s clear that we have much more work to do to end the mistreatment, profiling and violence against Black and Brown people across the Commonwealth.”

This is the money point to be made about this. Lost in the celebratory relief that, finally, this time, a jury returned a guilty verdict in one of these cases, is the notion that, maybe wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have so many of these cases of police overreach leading to the murders of Black men and Black women to have to prosecute in the first place?

“This verdict, while frankly a relief that the system worked this time, and a moment of acknowledgement that George Floyd’s life was egregiously and heinously snuffed out, is not a solution,” Fourth District Congressman Donald McEachin said. “We must commit to changing our policing to ensure these kinds of incidents do not happen again, are not continual headlines and that families are not left shocked and grieving when a loved one doesn’t come home. That is how we honor George Floyd’s life and countless others.”

This is where the rubber hits the road.

Convictions in egregious cases caught on video in broad daylight aren’t going to change much of anything.

Change has to come at the local level – at every local level, across the country.

Your local police chief, your local sheriff, is responsible for hiring, for maintaining the employment status of, for requiring the training status of, law enforcement officers in their employ.

Your local city council, board of supervisors, county commission, your state legislature, is responsible for making sure the salaries are commensurate to be able to attract and retain quality people to fill those jobs.

This is where accountability begins and ends.

Go to City Hall, go to the sheriff’s office, to your local legislator, and demand this – don’t ask for it, demand it.

Demand that your police chief, your sheriff, weed out the bad cops, get better training for the good cops, pay them better, give them more resources and support.

Demand that your elected leaders put the money behind salaries, behind training, behind the resources and support that people working impossibly hard jobs on the front lines need behind them.

While we’re at it, we need to demand for new approaches to things we’ve dealt with traditionally through policing.

It doesn’t make sense that police get the call to respond to mental health crisis calls, for instance. There have to be – and are – better and smarter ways to handle those kinds of issues.

This is how we “commit to changing our policing to ensure these kinds of incidents do not happen again,” “how we honor George Floyd’s life, and countless others.”

What we saw yesterday in Minnesota is just a starting point. It’s not the end.

Story by Chris Graham


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