The killing of George Floyd was the final straw

If you haven’t done so already, then you should go and watch the viral video of a former Minneapolis police officer who arrogantly and callously keeps his knee on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes, 46 seconds until the 46-year-old black man is unresponsive. Perhaps then you can then fully understand the revolt happening here in the United States and across the international stage.

You will then be able to make sense of the anger, the grief and the passion to eradicate the lawlessness of some police officers and law enforcement personnel.  This has been the story to tell by many black people. Floyd, unfortunately, is no longer around to tell his story. But he has millions of people to do that for him, particularly the Black Lives Matter activist organization.

It is a tale that very easily should have been avoided. But now the entire justice system, as it relates to addressing police brutality,  is on watch. Police violence against people of color, especially black people is nothing new. There are plenty of horrific visuals during the height of the Civil Rights Movement that showcases the abuses black people suffered at the hands of police.

Two young demonstrators share their thoughts during a George Floyd protest in downtown Los Angeles, California. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

The public outrage and condemnation of Floyd’s death could be a game-changer in finally getting police reform. However, if, maybe and but has always been the cards black people have been dealt with in trying to find justice for their pain. Do the names of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, and Alton Sterling ring a bell?

They should because they all died after confrontations with police. One of the major two commonalities these individuals share is that they are black. In the case of Bland, a routine traffic stop led to her arrest, and she subsequently died in a jail cell in Walter County, Texas. The manner of Bland’s death has been challenged by her family members. As for what happened to Floyd, what we see on the video looks obvious.

Floyd goes into cardiac arrest and dies. That may have been the end of the story had it not been for video capturing Derek Chauvin leisurely planting his left knee on Floyd’s neck as if he was going for a walk in the park. Chauvin, as well as three other Minneapolis, Minnesota police officers, choose to ignore Floyd’s repeated pleas of “I can’t breathe.” For goodness sake, Floyd even has the strength to summon up his dead mother as he lay on his stomach with handcuffs on his back while in the middle of his death throes.

Members of the Los Angeles Police Department take a knee with demonstrators at a George Floyd protest in downtown Los Angeles, California on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Yet, Floyd’s dying cries do not move Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng enough to medically assist him. He lays there, his lifeless body finally moved when paramedics arrive on the scene. The blatant disregard for Floyd’s life by these former members of the Minneapolis Police Department is beyond appalling. It’s terrifying.

So the protests you see has been a long time coming. Too many times in this country’s history, Black Lives have not mattered, particularly when it comes to police violence and vigilante killings. Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man jogging, had his young life taken away by three white men bent on stalking, hunting, and killing a black person.  That was one video. The Floyd video then set things off.

The killing of Floyd has led to a movement of protests here in the United States as well as across the globe that has basically brought America to its knees in how to deal with police violence. Corporate America, the sports and entertainment world, even public health agencies have all weighed in on the continued unjust treatment of African Americans in this country at the hands of law enforcement.

“Our nation is facing a great reckoning,” Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said in a released statement. “The tragic murder of George Floyd last week was only the latest senseless death of an African-American citizen at police hands. The world watched the shocking footage of Derek Chauvin holding his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but only the video evidence distinguished it from so many other police killings. Alliance for Justice expresses its deepest sympathies to George Floyd’s family, friends, and loved ones and to all people coping with this callous disregard for life. But sadness is not enough.”

A protester lifts up a Black Power salute during a George Floyd demonstration on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in downtown Los Angeles, California. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Anger, tears, and grief over the death/murder of yet another African American at the hands of law enforcement have mobilized of people sickened at the sight of Floyd coughing out his last breath “I can’t breathe” as a police officer planted his knee on the back man’s neck until he succumbed.

“All of us at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) are angered and deeply saddened by the police murder of George Floyd, and so many other senseless deaths in the Black community—incidents rooted in a long history of anti-Blackness in our nation,” a statement released by the Economic Policy Institute said. “This is a horrible moment for our nation—and a moment that challenges each of us to commit to lasting change. The racism that led to these tragic and unnecessary deaths has also created tragic economic disparities between Black and White people in the United States, a reality that the pandemic has magnified and laid bare.”

As a result of this latest incident chronicling police violence against black folks, four of the police officers on the scene of the alleged crime, have been fired and have now been charged in the death of Floyd. That has not stemmed the tide of anger for some, particularly here in Los Angeles, where the 1992 riots centered on the police’s brutal assault on black motorist Rodney King.

George Floyd
A National Guard troop on the scene in downtown Los Angeles, California on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Los Angeles has had its issues in regards to properly addressing police violence against its citizens, including the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission released a statement targeting the need for law enforcement accountability and reform.

“George Floyd didn’t deserve to die,” the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission said. “His murder by a law enforcement officer in full view of the public is a horrific reminder of how this nation has collectively failed Black people and other people of color time and time again. With COVID-19 disproportionately affecting Black and Latino communities, George Floyd’s killing underscores how far we have not come.

While we are angered and mourn the death of George Floyd, we also remember the countless other men and women who have died and suffered because of an unjust system including the many lives lost in Los Angeles County who have been killed because of illegal acts by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Black Lives do matter; we recognize and embrace this. To those who are hurting, we hear you; we, too, are hurting.

To those who are grieving, we are grieving with you. To those who are taking advantage of this pain and anguish, we condemn your actions and ask that you see the negative impact your actions are having on a cause that is worthy and just. It has been 30 years since Rodney King. Little has changed.

The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission was developed out of the recognition that there must be civilian, i.e. community, oversight of law enforcement. Our job is to increase the transparency and accountability of the Sheriff’s department and to make sure that it becomes a trustworthy institution.

Making their voices heard: Demonstrators show up at a march and rally in downtown Los Angeles, California. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Our purpose and charge is critical. But this is not enough. There are fundamental flaws in the entire criminal justice system, and in our society as a whole, that must be addressed: from laws and law enforcement to prosecution and the courts to jails and prisons. Reforms, system change, and transformation must happen.

A fundamental shift in the way in which we view one another must take place for this to occur. Inequality in all its forms (social, economic, judicial) must be eliminated.

We must not let our past failures prevent us from future success in creating a just society for all. The legacy of racism that underlies the inequity of the criminal justice system must be eliminated. Too many lives have been lost for us not to act. Too much is at stake.

As a Commission, we resolve to be solution-focused. We recommit to hold the Sheriff’s Department accountable for uses of force and being responsive to the communities it serves. We will celebrate their successes and hold them accountable when they miss the mark. We will perform our oversight functions preferably with cooperation and collaboration but if not, we will fulfill our mandate of oversight. We hope that the leadership at Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will join in this mission and work with us. We, too, must be held accountable.

We commit to join with community, educational, and other reform-minded organizations to propose and enact real changes within the criminal justice system. This must be a sustained effort and we are committed to seeing this through. We invite the wide and diverse Los Angeles community to engage with us.

Our communities are hurting – the pain and grief is real. We must not let the civil unrest of this moment override the righteous arc toward justice. We cannot move forward until we, as a nation, seriously address these endemic and existential issues. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere.” He also said that “Riots are the language of the unheard.” We hear you and commit to listen even more deeply and to act judiciously.”

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