George Floyd should be alive today.
George Floyd was murdered. The four men who killed him could have chosen not to kill him at any time. Now former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes. For six of those minutes, George Floyd begged for his life. For three minutes, he was unresponsive. Chauvin continued to press his knee down, deliberately using the weight of his body to cut off both the air and blood supply.
The actions of the 3 accomplices—who not only failed to stop Chauvin but aided him—have shredded the sense that we are protected by a shared fabric of mutual responsibility. Public authority comes from the authorization of the public. As the nation’s founding document notes, “governments … [derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed”, and then only to protect universal rights.
What we witnessed in the killing of George Floyd was a sign that our protectors operate far outside legitimate public authority. That they seemed confident they would not face any punishment has horrified millions across the nation; that we all know they had reason to believe they might get away without penalty is a national tragedy.
The officers should have been detained at the scene and charged immediately. Instead, they lied about what happened, and the MPD sent a spokesman to lie to the press, falsely blaming George Floyd for what the murderers did to him.
Video evidence laid bare the lies, and then charges did not immediately follow. Instead, a city, state, and nation were left to grieve in escalating disbelief that our legal system was not convinced this obviously evil and inhuman act was criminal.
The arrest of Derek Chauvin was only the first step toward justice. All four officers should have been arrested at the scene, immediately dismissed from the police force, and charged with homicide. That this didn’t happen is indicative of pervasive systemic injustice. The longer these arrests are delayed, the more evident is the lack of real protection provided by our legal system.
Prosecution and conviction of all four of the men who killed George Floyd will not be the end of this tragedy.
We need a transformational process of healing. We can accept nothing less than complete and universal commitment to fulfilling the promise that all rights and lives are equally protected, at all times.
The words of St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter resound:
There’s no such thing as enough when it comes to protecting human life. There’s no such thing as enough when it comes to preserving the relationship of trust and credibility that must flow between our police officers and our community members. There’s no such thing as enough when it comes to ensuring our children, that when you see someone in a badge and a uniform, that that someone is here to help you in an emergency, in a crisis or in any other situation. There’s no such place as enough when it comes to pursuing justice for George Floyd and so many of the unarmed unaggressive African American men, who we have demanded justice for. When we say there’s no such place as enough though, what that means is the responsibility is ours to act in a constructive manner.
All of us, in every moment, have an obligation to be consciously working toward a world where no person is treated as less than deserving of full protection.
We not only need to improve policing; we need to transform our way of being, to remove from the overall structure of our society the terror that so many people feel, knowing the status quo means their race could subject them to state-backed violence. To not consciously acknowledge the injustice of that is to condone and abet that injustice.
The Minneapolis Police Department must undergo an exhaustive investigation of its practices, to determine how the systemic injustice is structured, what keeps it going, and how it can be overturned.
- Officers who have committed acts of cruelty or abuse, of any kind, should be dismissed from service and should face relevant criminal charges.
- Command structures and common practices that presume police officers have a special authorization to use force against civilians must be confronted and dismantled.
- Comprehensive retraining will be required for most, if not all, remaining officers.
- There will need to be a long, deliberate, day-to-day trust-building effort to build stronger human ties between the police and the community.
- Those who have always served the public with honor and in basic human solidarity should be uplifted and empowered by this process, as bad actors undeserving of the badge no longer stand between them and the public trust.
This is, however, a national crisis, and we need a national process of transformation.
- This is why protests have now spread to at least 140 cities across the country.
- For too long, police have been asked to infuse military tactics and tools into their work in service of the community.
- This has distanced them from the people they are meant to serve and created an atmosphere of dangerous impunity.
- That impunity has allowed unthinkable brutality to fall hardest on those the system does not defend.
- We must end qualified immunity, and prosecute all who abuse the badge.
Justice for George Floyd—and for all those lost to this racist perversion of policing—will begin only when we genuinely undergo a deep national process of reformation and restoration. There will be no such place as enough. We can get to a place of justice, only if we commit to shaping a future in which no person is treated as less than deserving of full protection.