George Floyd case may spark US police reform, but hurdles remain

Published April 22, 2021, 6:22 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

The conviction of a white officer for George Floyd’s murder raised hopes Wednesday in the Black community of a historic turning point in US justice, but the police killing of another African American casts a shadow over prospects for change.

COLUMBUS, OH – APRIL 20: Black Lives Matter activist holds a sign against police brutality in front of the Ohio Statehouse in reaction to the shooting of Makiyah Bryant on April 20, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Police Shot and killed Makiyah Bryant, 16 years old, on April 20, 2021 sparking outrage from the community. Stephen Zenner/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Stephen Zenner / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Derek Chauvin, led from a Minneapolis courtroom in handcuffs Tuesday after being found guilty of all charges, faces up to 40 years in prison for killing Floyd by kneeling on the unarmed man’s neck for more than nine minutes.

The crime was recorded by a bystander whose video shocked the world, triggering mass protests across the United States and beyond and prompting a national reckoning on racial injustice and police brutality.

“But only with the passage of time will we know if the guilty verdict in the trial… is the start of something that will truly change America and the experience of Black Americans,” Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd, the family’s most outspoken member, wrote in a Washington Post opinion column.

“It’s up to all of us to build on this moment.”

At the Minneapolis intersection where George Floyd died, now a makeshift memorial, resident Helena Sere was “overwhelmed” in the aftermath of the guilty verdict but felt it stopped short of justice for Floyd.

“Justice would be being able to bring him back,” the 40-something African American told AFP. “But I would say the officer was made accountable for his actions, and I hope that’s the beginning of change.”

But with Sere and other Americans expressing relief that a rogue officer faced his due — and as President Joe Biden said the conviction could mark “a giant step forward in the march towards justice in America” — another tragedy involving police use of lethal force emerged.

Authorities in Ohio released body camera footage of an officer fatally shooting 16-year-old Black girl Ma’Khia Bryant, who appeared to be lunging with a knife at another girl.

“As we breathed a collective sigh of relief today, a community in Columbus felt the sting of another police shooting,” the Floyd family’s lawyer Ben Crump tweeted Tuesday.

Police in Ohio’s largest city urged against a rush to judgment in the case, in which an officer shot Bryant 11 seconds after exiting his car.

“Deadly force can be the response the officer gives” when they are confronted with someone employing such force against another person, Columbus Police Chief Michael Woods told reporters when asked whether the officer should have used other means to de-escalate the confrontation.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki lamented the “tragic” shooting as she described a disturbing pattern in which “police violence disproportionately impacts Black and Latino people.”

While the Chauvin trial progressed in Minneapolis, the Midwestern city was rocked by the fatal police shooting Sunday of 20-year-old African American Daunte Wright.

A memorial service was set for Thursday in Minneapolis, with civil rights leader Al Sharpton delivering a eulogy.

– ‘Persistent’ police misconduct –

Last year’s killing of Floyd as he lay face down and handcuffed saying repeatedly “I can’t breathe” has prompted some police reforms, but advocates including Biden say more is needed.

On Wednesday US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department systematically uses excessive force and “engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.”

Democrats in Congress demand long-overdue reforms, but they face opposition in the evenly split Senate.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — a sweeping package that bans choke holds, combats racial profiling and restricts officer immunity — passed the House of Representatives with support from just one Republican.

Senate passage would require votes from 10 Republicans. None has signed on, although Biden says he will push for the bill.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer vowed to “not rest” until Congress passes key police reforms, and cautioned against celebrating Chauvin’s conviction as a final justice.

“We should not mistake a guilty verdict in this case as evidence that the persistent problem of police misconduct has been solved, or that the divide between law enforcement and so many of the communities they serve has been bridged,” Schumer said. “It has not.”

– Breathe ‘better now’ –

George Floyd’s brother Rodney said Black Americans have been victims of deadly injustice at the hands of authorities for centuries. 

“We needed a victory in this case, it’s very important, and we got it. And hey, we might actually breathe a little bit better now,” he told AFP.

Among the 38 witnesses who testified for the prosecution was Darnella Frazier, the teenager who made the viral video that was shown repeatedly at the trial.

On Wednesday she was being hailed as a hero.

Frazier “changed history — with her phone and her courage to speak up,” tweeted congressman Joe Courtney.

Three other ex-officers involved in Floyd’s arrest go on trial later this year.