Nine days after the death of George Floyd, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held a virtual town hall. Congressional leaders and former police chiefs discussed channeling anger and frustration into radical and transformational change.
Last night, Sen. Corey Booker, former Democratic presidential candidate; Rep. Val Demings, former Chief of the Orlando Police Department; Dr. Cedric Alexander, former DeKalb County Chief of Police; and CNN political commentator Keith Boykin joined NAACP President Derrick Johnson, and spoke to the fury rooted in the history of police misconduct, racial inequality and social injustice.
“We have experienced the most unusual 80 days,” said Johnson. The pandemic was impacting our community at disproportionate rates and from there we watched the unfortunate event that took place with Ahmaud Aubrey in Georgia. In the midst of protesting and pushing for justice in that case, we learned of the incident in Louisville, Kentucky.
“A woman sleeping in her home, minding her business had doors kicked in by police officers who were executing a defective warrant for someone who was already apprehended. Unfortunately, she was killed as a result. Only to see the horrific video of what was taking place in Minneapolis. Followed immediately by the incident in Central Park,” he continued.
Taking into account all the incidents Johnson detailed, Boykin, who moderated the event, raised three questions to consider when holding police departments accountable and bringing an end to the criminalization of Black skin.
1. What are some viable solutions we can look forward to?
In efforts to sustain the movement, both Booker and Demings mentioned they were working closely with the Congressional Black Caucus to put forth several bills that deal with police reform.
Booker said he and Sen. Kamala Harris are partnering on a “comprehensive piece of legislation” around policing with Rep. Karen Bass and other CBC members. The New Jersey senator noted their vision for reform includes everything from “critical data collection, holding police officers at new levels of accountability, implicit bias training, abandoning chokeholds and other practices.”
Demings also shared similar sentiments in an op-ed, “My fellow brothers and sisters in blue, what the hell are you doing?” Prior to Congress, Demings joined the Orlando Police Department at 26 and was appointed as the first female Chief of Police in 2007.
“We need to look at every [law enforcement] agency from the inside out. While the federal government does not have direct jurisdiction, we do have a role to play in developing some standards and guidelines as it pertains to hiring, banning neck restraint policies, use-of-force and de-escalation training,” said Demings.
Lawmakers like Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Shelia Jackson Lee and many others have responded with a flurry of proposals, resolutions and bills that deal with police reform. In return, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to examine potential policy solutions on police brutality and racial profiling next Wednesday.
2. What makes this moment different?
Floyd’s death has captivated the nation and the world. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have held demonstrations along with global solidarity marches in Auckland, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Milan, Toronto and Berlin.
“We have seen persons from all backgrounds take to the streets and demand change. If we look historically, it’s always been an isolated issue that involved the Black community. It was our problem and left for us to solve,” recalled Demings. “We’ve also seen police executives speak out immediately against what they’ve witnessed.”
It is also the first time in modern American history that protests and demonstrations have taken place in the midst of a pandemic. Two weeks ago, Americans were advised to maintain social distancing to further prevent any spread of the virus. On Tuesday, 60,000 gathered in downtown Houston to rally in honor of Floyd.
“40 million people have lost their jobs. Schools and businesses are closed, so people have plenty of time to be active. This energy that has begun in the past nine days for George Floyd should continue. Not just with the George Floyd case, but with the Breonna Taylor case, the Ahmaud Aubrey case, the Christian Cooper case until justice flows down like water,” said Boykin.
3. What do we as a community do next?
Vote. Vote. Vote. Booker, Demings, Alexander and Johnson agreed the way to structural change is through public policy. All acknowledged utilizing the right to vote is crucial for reform.
“There is enough anger to say the system must change. We have to march to the polls in November. Everything else is a display of anger. Now we have to channel those emotions into action. In order for us to change public policy, we must elect people who respect and understand the needs and interests of our community,” Johnson said.
Alexander added “let [the anger] take you to a voting booth. Let it take to your elected officials offices - at the city, state and congressional level. It’s time for you to share your concerns constructively and hold them accountable. If we don't do that, we will be right back here again,”
Whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wins his seat this fall or former Vice President Joe Biden is elected into office, Booker said “voting could create one of the biggest turns in terms of progressive possibilities for our community. We know what’s at stake between 55 percent versus 70 percent of African American turn out. It will overwhelm the status quo and usher in a new era of American governance.”
Historically, justice for the Black community has had the tendency to move very slowly, but with consistent pressure for change through protests and petitions, few of the cases Johnson listed have progressed tremendously. Some have not.
“This is our Edmund Pettus Bridge moment. It may seem simple, but who sits at the seat, what type of safety nets will be put in place and the value placed on individuals and their lives all start in the polling place. We need to move toward systemic solutions to the systemic problems and it starts in November. In order for us to win this fight, we need to appreciate the levers of powers and it starts at the polling place,” Johnson concluded.