Op-EdOpinion

ELLISON: In Memory of George Floyd — One Year After His Death

George Floyd loved people and had the love of people all around him — especially the love of his family that was always there for him. Everyone who knew and loved him misses him to this day, and always will.

None of the people who stopped and raised their voices one year ago — people of all backgrounds — even knew George Floyd but they knew in their bones that what they were seeing was wrong. They knew it was their duty to care for Floyd in any way they could and bear witness to his death, even though they didn’t know him.

Floyd’s death one year ago today sparked a worldwide movement because it didn’t happen in the flash of an instant: it took place over nine-and-a-half excruciating minutes before people armed only with cellphones who made sure it played out in front of the world.

African-American communities have been gaslit by people in authority for 100 years: they have been repeatedly told that state-sanctioned violence in their communities is their fault and that they are the criminals, not the ones committing the crimes against them. But this time, the witnesses to George Floyd’s death and everyone in the world who watched their videos refused to be gaslit. They believed their eyes.

After 100 years of tragic incidents of police-involved deaths of African Americans and others, all fair-minded people want to fix the problem. But as James Baldwin said, “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We must face that for 100 years, we have been caught in a cycle of state-sponsored violence that leads to uprising and protest, that leads to commissions and studies, that dead-ends in inaction, that leads to more state-sponsored violence. Noted African-American psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark made exactly this point to the Kerner Commission in 1968, more than 50 years ago.

We can break this cycle. The moment for making meaningful change is now.

The moment for law-enforcement leaders to finally demand true accountability of their staff — and for officers to finally demand true accountability of each other — is now.

The time for legislators at every level — federal, state, and municipal — to act is now. As the person who is leading the prosecution in the death of George Floyd, I know that guilty verdicts are important but are not the total change that we need. I call on Congress to pass the best version of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that can be passed, as soon as possible. Lives are depending on it.

The time for prosecutors to commit themselves to equal justice for anyone who commits a crime whether they wear a badge or not, and to the proposition that no one is above the law and no one is beneath it, is now.

And the time for all Americans of all backgrounds to do the hard work of ending racism and white supremacy once and for all is now.

For a century, and despite the best efforts of many, America has chosen inaction over climbing this mountain. But the other side of this mountain is better — not only for African Americans but for everyone.

On the other side of this mountain, no one fears those who are sworn to protect them, so all communities are safer. On the other side of this mountain, safety and security in all communities lead to jobs, investment and prosperity for everyone. On the other side of this mountain, all people live with dignity and respect, and liberty and justice are truly for all.

Finally, my thoughts today are with the Floyd family as they mourn their beloved “Perry.” Every day during the recent trial, they came to the courthouse to bear witness in the spirit of justice and accountability. They stood not with vengefulness but with dignity and respect for each other and all people. They faced their worst fears and have turned their loss into hope and optimism for a better society. When we all become more like the Floyd family, we will find the courage to climb the mountain and make the change we all need.

Keith Ellison is the attorney general of Minnesota.

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