Perceptions of George Floyd’s legacy and the April conviction of the Minneapolis police officer who killed him are mixed among Black leaders in Anderson.
Kim Townsend, chair of the Race, Equity and Inclusion Workgroup, and Lindsay Brown, president of the Indiana African American Democratic Caucus, each believe the event that set off a nationwide protest hasn’t really led to improved social justice or police reform.
However, Terrell Brown, who helped found the local group It’s Up There in response to Floyd’s May 25, 2020, death, believes social justice headway has been made in the past 12 months.
Townsend said progress in police policies and actions has been slow to come.
“I can’t say that I am seeing any changes,” she said. “I think the police unions are maybe the reasons we aren’t seeing a lot of change. I think George Floyd has affected race relations among people in general, but I don’t see any difference among police.”
One incident simply isn’t enough to make the kind of systemic change that needs to happen nationwide, according to Townsend.
“I think there needs to be more (officers) brought to justice, and maybe that will send a bigger message,” she said.
What’s particularly telling, Townsend noted, is that the entire incident was captured on video for the world to see, and still, there was argument during the trial of Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin, about the “actual” cause of death.
“If I had breast cancer and the doctor says I have three months to live and I get hit by a car, that’s what killed me,” she said. “I can’t believe how twisted we are that when we see someone hold a man down like that, it’s still controversial. I just can’t believe it even took that long to come to the decision.”
What still separates Floyd and other Black men from white men is a trial, according to Townsend.
‘JUDGE AND JURY’
“If George Floyd did what they said he did, he didn’t have a trial. His trial was on the streets,” the mother of two adult sons said. “There’s no trial for a lot of our Black males that are being killed in the streets. The police have decided they are going to be the judge and the jury.”
The lack of police reform is visible in their culture, which was on display during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Townsend said. Police officers from departments scattered across the nation and members of the military participated in that event, she noted.
At least 31 police officers are under investigation for suspected roles in the riot.
“What disturbs me is some of these officers getting out on social media and supporting some of the things that have happened in other cities,” she said. “I think that this supremacy movement is becoming more pronounced because people no longer are fearful to display their feelings and beliefs.”
Real change will come when police departments become more diverse and reflective of the communities they serve, Townsend said.
“You can’t have one voice in leadership positions,” she said. “You need different voices at the table. I think it’s hard to get young men interested in law enforcement because of a lack of trust. But still, we can get some of these men interested in some of these roles.”
According to Lindsay Brown, the death of Floyd is really just the story of one man.
“The only things that happened is George Floyd died, and his family is in mourning. We’re still light years away from positive outcomes,” he said.
Lindsay Brown was instrumental in an effort with the state Democratic Party to create a template document to be used by communities throughout the state, including Anderson, for police reform. That effort started prior to Floyd’s death, which acted as a catalyst to bring it before city leaders, he said.
“I made the changes to fit the community,” he said. “We don’t do their job. We don’t know what the dangers are they are facing. I am not against the police. I just want to make sure they are doing their jobs by the book and by the law.”
Lindsay Brown said he faced resistance from Anderson City Council that eventually derailed the effort.
“Instead of the people’s best interests, some of the council members had the police’s best interests at heart,” he said.
On the upside, Lindsay Brown said, discussions of reform reopened the possibility of providing Anderson police with body cameras to record their response to incidents. Video can help not only in situations that involve bodily injury or death but even when officers are involved in smaller incidents that lead to charges such as disorderly conduct.
Anderson officials said this month that the city had received the body cameras it purchased and that APD officers were in training to use the cameras.
“We wouldn’t have the body cameras if I didn’t write that legislation,” Lindsay Brown said. “I think if a body camera, if the video is released, it can show a different side.”
Transparency also is key to better policing, he said.
“Until it becomes public knowledge of disciplinary actions for police officers, we’re going to be hit,” Lindsay Brown said.
Terrell Brown said he’s seen indications over the past year that the cause of social justice is advancing.
“With the whole George Floyd situation, it opened up the eyes of everyone,” he said.
Unlike Townsend and Lindsay Brown, Terrell Brown believes Black men are safer because of Floyd’s death. They also are safer because there are more Black judges and the election of the nation’s first Black vice president, he added.
“We came together and started a movement that sparked something across the world,” he said. “They see the peak of our capability when we unite, so I think it’s safer out here.”
POST YOUR OPINION