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'I wish there was a sigh of relief': Black community reacts to officer's arrest
TORONTO -- Black community leaders, police officers and others say George Floyd’s death and the aftermath of how the case was handled has further eroded public trust in the justice system and that tougher laws on excessive force, more police force diversity and sensitivity training are needed to help dismantle systemic racism.
The white former Minneapolis police officer who was captured on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck even as he gasped for air and pleaded for help was arrested Friday in Floyd’s death. Derek Chauvin, 44, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Floyd’s death became a flashpoint for African American communities across the U.S., angry at yet another black person killed at the hands of the police. Tensions escalated further Thursday as protestors torched a police station in Minneapolis, with buildings damaged, burned or looted by Friday.
“Those Minneapolis officers and that department agency have violated — grossly violated — the public’s trust that they have in them for protection. Those people don’t feel protected,” Deandre Hutchison, president of the Afro American Police Officer League, told CTV News Channel from Houston.
“As an African American man, I was outraged to see that type of inhumanity happen on a world stage, for the entire world to see. That officer had no regard for that man’s life.”
Hutchison encouraged peaceful protest to push for stronger laws and policies that would prevent future police violence from going unchecked.
“It went unchecked for so long … that’s what brought us here, everything else is just a distraction to take us away from that point,” he said.
Protesters expressed anger over how long it took to make an arrest despite the graphic video. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said that charges were laid with “extraordinary speed.”
Hutchison said all the police needed to make an arrest was probable cause, which he says was amply provided by the video and that anything more was for a courtroom to decide.
“I wish there was a sigh of relief, I wish I could celebrate, it’s still a very sombre moment. That excuse that they gave, I just want to emphatically say, that is not true,” he said. “I don’t understand why it took so long.”
Legal expert Kirk Burkhalter, a former detective with the New York Police Department and a law professor, believed the arrest only happened because of public pressure.
“A lot of folks didn’t understand why the police or the prosecutor would not make an arrest immediately in the face of such overwhelming evidence for at least the standard for arrest,” Burkhalter told CTV News Channel.
“In situations like this, the families of the victims are victimized twice. They’re victimized first when they lose their loved one. They’re victimized a second time by the slow turning wheels of justice. Nothing is going to bring George Floyd back.”
Outrage was sparked on Friday by U.S. President Donald Trump, who called the protestors “THUGS” in a tweet and threatened to “assume control,” adding “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
That phrase has roots from the 1960s, when a notorious Miami police chief at the time used it in a warning to black civil rights protesters.
Clarence Lusane, a professor at Howard University, said the president’s tweet was “absolutely” racist.
“That it was specifically aimed at this young black community that was out on the street, that your life will be threatened if you continue to protest,” he said.
Twitter added a warning to the tweet, saying it “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence” but added that it may be in the public’s interest to keep the tweet accessible.
Imani Cheers, a race relations expert, agreed with Twitter’s assessment and said Trump has been divisive since he took office in 2017. She noted Trump’s response toward protesters who were angry about the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.
“The response was to refer to them as patriots,” she said.
“We’re at a point now where black people are tired. The opportunities for peaceful protesting, marching, kneeling in silence, in civil disobedience is over … talking isn’t working, so we’re finding other ways to express our pain, our frustrations, and our anger.”
Meanwhile, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew were arrested by police early Friday morning on live television while covering the aftermath of the overnight protests.
For many viewers, the arrest of Jimenez, who is black and Latino, stood in contrast to Josh Campbell, a white CNN reporter who was reporting nearby. Campbell said police allowed him to keep reporting once he identified himself. Jimenez and his crew were released shortly after, with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz apologizing for what happened.
“That is absurd. That is why everybody feels the way they feel about what’s going on there,” said Hutchison, adding that it was disheartening seeing how things were unfolding in Minneapolis.
“It is very disheartening as a black man. It is very disheartening as a police officer. The community deserves better.”
HOW TO CHANGE INSTITUTIONALIZED RACISM
Hutchison, who had a fraternity brother killed by the police, said police recruiting practices across the U.S. must change in order to create a more diverse police force. He also advocated for more cultural sensitivity training and more use of force training. He said it was important to make the punishment explicitly clear on paper when an officer uses excessive force and causes harm.
There is currently no penalty, he said, which allows other police officers to “feel empowered” by the fact that there is no punishment for these actions.
“We need harsher penalties and better legislation and be able to prosecute these officers when they break the law so then it sends a message to the others that that type of behaviour won’t be tolerated,” Hutchison said.
“If you violate this oath that you took to protect, if you violate it, you deserve to be punished for it.”