Value Black Lives

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Michelle Phillips

I had just started to write this column early Monday morning about the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis, and the fact that the defense is hellbent on putting George Floyd on trial. (I will get back to that topic.) Instead, I decided to read the news first. 

I was horrified to read a story about a man in Virginia, Army Lt. Caron Nazario, allegedly being threatened and pepper sprayed when he did not pull over immediately but went to a well-lit gas station to stop. Nazario is Black and Latino and held his hands up when the police officer approached and told him he was scared to get out. The officer responded, “Yeah, you should be.” The cop then pepper sprayed him. Police proceeded to illegally searched his vehicle.

His crime? Not displaying a license plate. But there was a temporary plate in the window, which police saw when they approached according to the police report.

The officer who peppered sprayed Nazario was fired, and an investigation is pending. He also needs to be charged for intimidation and excessive use of force.

I was appalled and outraged as I have been so many times over the past 30 years, when I watched Los Angeles police beat Rodney King in the street. Fortunately, King did not die in the attack, but the filming of his beating set the stage for similar recordings, particularly after the invention of the cell phone camera, over and over again in the United States.

As I sipped my morning coffee and continued to scour the news as I do every morning, I came across a story I found to be even more chilling. Police in the Minneapolis suburb Brooklyn Center shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop that began because he had air fresheners hanging from his mirror, which is illegal in Minnesota. 

When police learned he had an outstanding warrant, they tried to arrest him, and he got back in his car. That’s when one of the officers allegedly shot and killed Wright.

The shooting spawned protests in Brooklyn Center, about 10 miles away from the George Floyd killing, and protesters threw rocks and fired guns at the police station. Protesters then broke into a nearby shopping mall. Police struck back by firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the crowd. Expecting further unrest, the National Guard was called in.

Now, back to what I came here to address originally. George Floyd is not the one on trial, he is the victim. I don’t care what former offenses he committed, I don’t care if he was on drugs, selling drugs, or whatever else the defense claims. Furthermore, George Floyd paid his debt to society through incarceration for the crimes for which he was on tried. But mostly importantly, George Floyd is not on trial! Derek Chauvin is on trial–say it with me.

The world has seen the video of George Floyd crying out for his mother while being choked to death in the street. That is the bottom line. What he did or who he was before that moment is washed away by the fact that Derek Chauvin chose to lean on his neck for more than nine minutes, causing his death, according to not one, but two, medical examiners.

Two of my friends who live in Minneapolis are on pins and needles awaiting the outcome of the trial. The fear, of course, is that Chauvin will be let go or serve little or no time if he is convicted. They fear more protests, rioting and unrest in their city.

This country is protest, though. It was built from and on protest. Although I don’t like the violence, (I don’t like violence as a rule) I fully understand the frustration. Nothing else has worked to get the point across to law enforcement and lawmakers that we can no longer accept the killing of our own citizen for committing petty crimes, then set their killers free. 

When will the police in this country, particularly those in Minneapolis, learn that is not okay to a kill black person, guilty or not? It is simply unacceptable for police to continue their shoot to kill mentality. It is also not acceptable for white people to stand idly by and watch, post videos on social media, then go back about their business. I am calling on you all to speak out and stand up against police killings and brutality. I want Americans to demand more training, and training that does not condone excessive force and abuse of power. I want the expectation to be that we foster good policing and insist that officers are fired and banned from working in law enforcement when they commit crimes. Hold the killers and bullies in the force accountable. Most of all, I want people to value Black life as life. Period.

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