By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When police officers are sworn in, they take an oath. As members of a law enforcement agency, they vow to protect and to serve their community. In theory, police officers are the ones to call when something goes wrong, but many communities of color won’t make that call and it’s not hard to see why.
Police brutality against people of color is entirely too common. It’s not hard to find an example of a death of a person of color at the hands of the police. In Milwaukee, Dontre Hamilton, Joel Acevedo and Sylville Smith are some of the names that come to mind.
In 2014, the shooting of a young Black man by the name of Michael Brown sparked national protests. And just last year, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis did the same.
For eight minutes, Floyd laid on the ground with the knee of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed into his neck. Floyd struggled to breathe and eventually, he stopped breathing all together.
His death led to national outrage and protest, but earlier this week, a bit of justice was found. On Tuesday, April 20, the jury found Chauvin guilty on three counts of murder.
According to CNN, for second-degree murder, Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison, for third-degree murder he could face up to 25 and for second-degree manslaughter, he could face up to 10 years.
This decision, while monumental, does not eradicate past errors. Many noted that while the jury’s decision was a cause of celebration, it was met with heavy hearts, after all, a man still died. Rather, it is the first step on the road to justice and equity with all indications pointing to a long journey ahead.
“The image of George Floyd dying is a permanent part of our collective memory,” Mayor Tom Barrett said during a press conference. “To move forward, we must understand that violence against Black people and other people of color is real.”
Barrett condemned people in position of power who use their authority to perpetuate violence. He said peaceful petitioning for change is essential for society and for Milwaukee’s future. There are changes to make here, including police accountability, improving law enforcement, changing law enforcement culture and increasing community respect, he said.
During the press conference, Acting Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffery Norman said that one of the takeaways from the trial is the need to enhance police and community relations, especially in Black and brown communities.
He said the Milwaukee Police Department plans to enhance its training when it comes to de-escalation practices, fear and impartial policing, procedural justice and true police intervention.
“We need to work on healing our community,” Norman said. “And also respect the first amendment and peaceful demonstrations. I look forward to a more optimistic 2021.”
Following the jury’s announcement, elected officials across the nation released statements.
“A single verdict cannot bring justice for the Floyd Family or the family of Daunte Wright who forever shoulder the incomparable loss of a loved one,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said. “Real justice is living in a world where George Floyd and Daunte Wright are still alive today and their killers never had the power to take their lives in the first place.”
He noted that the system is guilty and in need of change. He asked that everybody commit to the work needed to achieve racial equity.
“While this is a moment of accountability in our justice system and our country, we are reminded that justice for Black lives is not a moment – it requires meaningful, sustained and systemic change,” Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement. “Today’s verdict doesn’t replace the changes we must make to keep our promises of a more fair and equitable state and country. Every day – and especially today – we must reaffirm and resolve to continue our work toward justice.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo also issued a statement.
“I want to acknowledge and thank the jurors on this case for their immense responsibility and honorable civic duty,” Arradondo stated. “The verdict has been read and I respect the process and the decision.”
Arradondo said he hopes that the community and law enforcement find a way to heal together.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced it launched an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department.
“The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement on Wednesday, April 21. “Building trust between community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us, but we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.”