by M. Anthony Davis
Today is the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. As we take time to reflect on the multitude of events that took place in the aftermath, it is important to remember — Floyd did not make a sacrifice. He did not choose to give his life in hopes that his death would lead to a national racial reckoning that would catapult our nation, and a large part of the world, into a summer of protest. George Floyd wanted to live. He literally pleaded for his life. He is not a martyr. He is a victim.
In reflecting on Floyd’s death at the hands of Derek Chauvin, and the resulting protests and supposed U.S. “racial awakening,” it is hard for me to find a bright spot for this column. Police continue to kill citizens at the same rate they did before Floyd’s murder. In fact, since George Floyd was killed last year, 1,068 more people have been killed by police in the United States. According to data collected by the Washington Post, police have consistently shot and killed about 1,000 people per year since 2015. In 2021, we are currently on track to continue that fatal trend. And despite the nationwide movement in the wake of Floyd’s death calling to defund the police, many major municipalities, some of which vowed to defund, have failed to do so or defunded at miniscule rates.
So where does that leave us? The video of George Floyd’s death, which felt like watching a public lynching, is likely the only reason Derek Chauvin was convicted. Consider, for instance, that the original report by the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) stated Floyd’s death was a “medical incident during police interaction.” If we did not have the excruciating nine-minute video of his murder, that MPD report would likely have led to Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers never being convicted. There has only been one conviction of murder for an on-duty cop in the history of MPD, and that case, with no video evidence available and conflicting accounts of events leading to the fatal shooting, involved a Black officer, Mohamed Noor, accidently shooting a white woman, Justine Rusczyk.
So I find myself asking, where are we now? Police have not been defunded, Black and Brown people continue to be killed by cops. The officers involved in Floyd’s murder were charged and Chauvin was convicted, but the tax payers in Minneapolis were left with a $27 million bill in the Floyd family’s civil case. Where is the silver lining? What victory has the community won as a result of a year’s worth of protests?
Hopefully, our victory will come by way of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Despite the opposition of the Movement for Black Lives, and like-minded organizations, I believe the George Floyd Act is a pivotal step in the right direction. While the bill does include strategies that we have seen fail time and time again like chokehold bans that we have seen ignored by cops in the field, the bill does include sweeping reforms, including the creation and implementation of a national police misconduct registry that prevents officers fired for misconduct from being rehired in different police departments, that could have saved Floyd’s life. The bill also lowers the legal standard for willful recklessness, making it easier to prosecute cops. Had this act been in place, Chauvin, who had 18 complaints in his 19-year career in law enforcement, may have no longer been on the force.
Some activists are opposing this bill. The Movement for Black Lives, which is a nationwide coalition of 150 organizations focused on the political conditions of Black Americans, has stated on record that they feel this bill not only doubles down on police reform strategies that have failed Blacks in the past, but this bill entirely ignores calls to defund the police and actually creates avenues to increase the funding to police departments nationwide.
I am not arguing that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is an end-all to police brutality. There are some things in the bill, like allocating additional funds to train officers, that I disagree with. Training has not proved to be a concrete step towards curbing police violence or excessive use of force. The idea of police receiving additional funds for training is not only a slap-in-the-face to the defund movement, but a waste of resources that could be used to bolster social services. However, I believe this bill is a step in the right direction and could potentially become the most robust police reform bill of our lifetime.
As I reflect on the last year and all the events that have taken place in the wake of George Floyd’s unjust death, I want to be in a place of peace. I wanted to believe that Floyd’s murder would lead to a national reckoning, an understanding by everyone that Black people have never felt safe in the presence of police. It would have been great to see an abrupt end to police brutality. But those things are not going to happen. Some cops are racists and policing in itself is a racist institution designed to target marginalized people. There is no way to change the hearts of individual cops, but the Chauvin trial was a huge victory, and the bill named after George Floyd, by way of an end to qualified immunity and legislation that makes it easier to prosecute cops among other measures, will bring us closer to achieving accountability from law enforcement.
George Floyd was murdered. There is no “winning” when a member of our community loses their life. But, while Floyd is gone, he will never be forgotten. And for the rest of us who are here, the fight for justice will continue.
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
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