By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
On May 25th, the nation observed the one-year mark of George Floyd’s dying as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on the back of Flyod’s neck for over nine minutes.
Floyd’s death triggered an international movement as thousands marched against police brutality and disparities in criminal and social justice.
But did the institutions which control these forces hear the demands and pleas?
Recently GUIDE talked to a number of people to give their view on that quest since Floyd’s death a year ago.
In Virginia notably, there have been legislative reforms to rein in police profiling of Black motorists, ending no-knock issuances of warrants, legalization of small amounts of marijuana to reduce arrests of Black people and others, and efforts to better train police.
But each person we interviewed saw a glass half empty, where abuses still exist even as reforms have taken place.
Jason Inge is the Regional Transportation
Mobility Manager at Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia. He is also running for Norfolk City Council’s Superward 7 seat.
“I was glad to see Chauvin convicted,” he said. “But will we continue to hold police accountable for such actions? We have a long history of strain between police and our community. We recognize policing is a tough job and police are human, too, but their badge does not give them a license to kill us.”
Inge said an independent citizen review board with investigative powers would help, but he noted that some locales resist this option.
On Dec. 5, 2020, two Windsor Sheriff’s deputies pulled over U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, while he was dressed in uniform, according to the lawsuit filed April 2. They pulled him over in a newly purchased SUV for not having a rear license plate, according to the lawsuit.
Virginia State House Delegate Angelia Williams Graves, during the last session of the state legislature, introduced a bill to create oversight of local Sheriff’s departments which police communities in many small locales, like Windsor.
She said the bill passed the House of Delegates but was killed in committee in the Senate.
“But don’t think I will not reintroduce it,” said Graves, who served her first term. “Sheriff’s departments need more oversight because they think they can get away with such abuses.”
Graves said the best thing which helped the movement for police reform and social justice was the iPhone.
Graves said that while Steve Jobs gets credit for inventing the iPhone with a video recorder, it is Darnella Frazier, the teen who filmed the killing of George Floyd, who gets credit for recording the prime example of historic police abuse of Black people.
“Now people believe us,” said Graves. “They did not believe such abuses occurred in our communities every day”
Graves said one of the best reforms would be “hiring good officers who want to serve and protect us all.”
NAACP leader Brandon Randleman lives in Suffolk, but is advising and speaking out at protests rallies in support of the Isle Wight NAACP, in Windsor, where Army Lt. Caron Nazario was stopped in December.
Randleman and other activists say incidents of Black motorists being stopped along stretches of Interstate 640 near Windsor, occur with frequency.
He said as a student at Virginia State University, before graduating in 2013, he heard complaints about the police near Windsor stopping his fellow students and from their parents when they were undergrads.
He said small towns like Windsor issue large numbers of traffic tickets, to mostly Black motorists to generate revenue for the community.
“Such racial profiling and police stopping Black drivers increasing the risk, of abuses,” said Randleman.
Randleman said data shows in 2018-2019 the Windsor law enforcers stopped a high number of motorists. But no specific racial or gender information was recorded. Now the police in Windsor and other locales will have to collect such data.
Da’Quan Marcell Love is the Executive Director of Virginia State Conference NAACP.
Love said the NAACP has been at the forefront of fighting police and judicial abuse of Black people since it began in 1909.
“The NAACP fought to win the Brown decision, which declared public school segregation illegal in 1954. But,” he said, “implementing it was slowed for over a decade.”
“It took continued persistence,” he said. “Reforming policing and criminal justice will not come overnight either”.
One reform, he mentioned which would stop police abuses is ending “qualified immunity” for police so they can be sued to be held accountable.
Dr. Eric Claville, the Director of NSU’s Center for African American Public Policy (CAAmPP), said the fact Officer Chauvin was found guilty was because his heinous act was videoed and gave a “visual truth to claims of police brutality and may have made them more cautious.”
But we have seen cases of excessive deadly force after the Floyd incident, Claville said.
Claville said cases of police brutality are costing city government large sums of money settling suits. Officers would be hesitant to abuse citizens if they had to carry liability insurance paid by them, a union or the department.
“Doctors, lawyers, and even drivers must have insurance if they inflict injury on people they serve,” said Claville.
“There would be a check on them and accountability. It would chip away at ‘qualified immunity’ which protects them from being at least financially accountable.”
Barbara Hamm Lee is the host of the “Another View” radio program on WHRO.
“On May 25th, the day of George Floyd’s death, I felt disappointment,” she said. “We have not moved the needle at all. Remember all of that financial support for social justice organizations and efforts has fallen back to zero.”
Lee continued, “They are still standing in the way of viable laws which protect Black and brown people. I take nothing from recent incidents of Asians being attacked…it’s terrible.
“The Asian Protection Bill flew through Congress. But the George Floyd Protection Act is still stuck in the U.S. Senate. Why?”
Japharii Jones is a leader of the 757 Black Lives Matter group in Hampton Roads, which he said was born five years ago with the death of Orlando Castille in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and David Latham shot by a Norfolk policeman on his family’s porch in Park Place.
The 757BLM has mirrored the national protests all over Hampton Roads.
This has included shutting down the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel in Hampton, confronting hostile police in Virginia Beach, and supporting the removal of the Confederate Statue in Portsmouth.
“I think that Black Lives Matter has contributed to many of the changes we have seen since May 25th,” said Jones. “But incidents of death caused by the police continue to happen. So we must continue to pressure for change to assure there are no more George Floyds or David Lathams.”
Synnika Alek-Chizoba Lofton is a rap artist, author and educator in the Hampton Roads area.
“To be perfectly honest, I am hoping that the death of Floyd will create the urgent change the country needs to address police reform,” he said. “However, I am not convinced that the political process has the intestinal fortitude to see the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act brought into existence, especially after learning that lawmakers are getting cold feet over ‘qualified immunity’ for police officers. I hope that I am wrong.”
“We have to continue to put pressure on the United States government and law enforcement to ensure our communities are protected from the abuse of police officers. Incremental change is good, progress is good, but I would love to see a radical shift.”
Lynda Williams, the President of the 3,000-member National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), said her
organization was one of the first police groups to support the Floyd Policing Act.
The law would ban chokeholds, and increase training of police to de-escalate tensions when they interact with citizens and other provisions to hold police accountable.
“Let’s hope George Floyd did not die in vain,” said Williams, who worked 29 years with the U.S. Secret Service.
“His death reminds us of the systemic racism which exists in the very fiber of our nation. Some people deny it, but it happens to Black people every day. We must first admit it exists.”
Williams said police who intervene to stop fellow officers from abusing citizens must be protected.
She said that community policing must be practiced and police must not be perceived as an “invading force but guardians of people who respect them.”
She noted there must be some changes to ‘qualified immunity’, which shields police from being sued for abuses. But she said it must be done gradually and in a way, which does not demoralize officers.