George Floyd would have been an ordinary statistic, so common an action that you wouldn't have paid him a second notice. He was the latest Black man in 2020 caught in a police trap with no exit. A misdemeanor allegation. A $20 fake bill. An apprehensive but somewhat cooperative suspect.
It was, after all, Memorial Day, and who should let their guard down on that auspicious holiday? It was Minneapolis, the land of the "Minnesota Nice," where racial confrontations are often not discussed in polite company.
"I Can't Breathe!"
Everyone knows what happened, how it happened, and the impact of what happened around the world. One black man pinned to a city street by the knee of a rogue police officer who listened to no-one. When George Floyd called out to his deceased mother, Officer Derek Chauvin refused to release the suspect. He kept pressing on Floyd's neck for nearly ten minutes. When George Floyd cried out, "I Can't Breathe!!" Chauvin used his white male police privilege and resolutely anchored his hold. Even the three police officers on hand did nothing to ease the tragedy. They were accomplices in a statistical murder that mattered little to them.
But it did matter to Darnella Fraizer. She was 17 years old on that day, with no photographic, videographer, or police training. A mere high school kid with a conscience bigger than Derek Chauvin or the three police goons put together. She simply took out her phone, clicked over to the video option, and pressed play. Her 9-year-old cousin, Judeah Reynolds, faithfully stood by and witnessed a police officer murdering a Black man. Darnella kept filming, Judeah gave moral support, and other witnesses did their part to dissuade the rogue cop from finishing off an unarmed Black man.
Darnella unknowingly was serving a higher purpose. She said, "When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black. It's been nights I've stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. It's not what I should have done; it's what he should have done."
Baby cousin Judeah said, "I was sad and kind of mad, and it felt like it was stopping his breathing and it was hurting him. "
A 17 year old and a 9 year old. Offering more grace under fire than wealthy patrons with trunks filled with academic degrees.
These children had GUTS. They were BRAVE. They had COURAGE.
The rogue cops threatened to spray mace in their faces to deter the courage and bravery they demonstrated. Other bystanders, including two other 17-year-olds, Alyssa Funari and Karlynn Gilbert, testified in court and bore their truth of what they saw that day. Yes, there were adults who also testified for the Prosecution, articulating the helplessness they felt as they pleaded for the rogue cop to take his knee off of George Floyd's neck.
Charles McMillian, age 61, was most compassionate, encouraging George Floyd to corporate with the police; yet he also witnessed a hateful and racist cop killing a Black man over a $20 bill. When I watched McMillian break down and cry during his court testimony, tears flowed down my face as I struggled to ask the question, "Why?"
The conviction of Officer Derek Chauvin represented a well-orchestrated trial where the testimonies and video footage of children were principal components of the Prosecution's evidence. The Defense's arguments were pathetically weak, heavily relying on the hypothesis that the preexisting medical-drug history of George Floyd was the cause of death.
And in less than 12 hours, the diverse jury of nine set the record straight.
They believed the CHILDREN.
Yes, the sentencing will take place in the next eight weeks, and Derek Chauvin's legal team will undoubtedly press for an appeal. It won't work. Chauvin will serve some time in jail for his arrogance, hatred, and racism. His police goon squad of three will probably get jail time after their trial is held in August.
The Police Killings Continue
In the midst of nationwide celebrations of the Chauvin's conviction, there is still so much work to do. The US Justice Department is now investigating the operational practices of the Minneapolis Police Department. And as I write this commentary, three more police "shoot to kill" cases have sprung up in Columbus, Ohio, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee.
This is out of control and MUST be stopped. Our nation MUST recalibrate our police departments so that punishment meets the crime regardless of race or ethnicity.
George Floyd would have been proud of the young and old bystanders who defended his dignity. They could not save his life, but they saved his legacy. I pay tribute to Darnella and Judeah in particular because they did not RUN in the face of danger. One took out her cell phone as a proud citizen journalist. And the other backed up her older cousin and cried out as any good 9-year-old advocate would do.
They would make ANY mother proud. I celebrate their wisdom and their action.
Saving George Floyd
Yes, young people SAVED George Floyd. They couldn't save his life, but they saved his humanity and made it impossible for us to look away or turn back to the old way of thinking. For our young people armed with cell phone cameras, hopes, and dreams, we have to recalibrate our police departments across the country and examine the countless other ways to affirm the Black Lives Matter signs with policies and practices that give Black and Brown people the decency they deserve.
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Carole Copeland Thomas is a 27 year speaker, trainer and consultant specializing in global diversity, empowerment, multiculturalism and leadership issues.