May 18, 2021

MORRIS COUNTY AFRO-AMERICAN NEWS

MORRIS COUNTY AFRO-AMERICAN NEWS

Conviction of cop who killed George Floyd brings tears of joy, and resolve to press on, in Morristown

Activists in Morris Township, May 30, 2020, protest the death of George Floyd in custody of Minneapolis police.

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When her car radio delivered the news Tuesday afternoon that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had been convicted of murdering George Floyd, T’Anna Kimbrough started crying.

“I feel relief,” said the founder of Black Lives Matter Morristown, after a jury in Minnesota found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

T’Anna Kimbrough, founder of Black Lives Matter Morristown, addresses rally for George Floyd, Morris Township, May 30, 2020. Photo by Marion Filler

Kimbrough took part in numerous teach-ins, webinars and meetings across Morris County last summer after Floyd’s death–while pinned under Chauvin’s knee for nearly nine minutes, an act captured on video seen around the world–sparked widespread protests.

“I want to believe this will be a step in the right direction, in terms of holding police officers and white supremacists accountable. That’s my hope,” Kimbrough said.

Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Morristown’s Bethel A.M.E. Church spoke at several rallies last summer. He, too, said he hopes the verdict sends a message to police that they cannot get away with murder.

But justice has not been served, the minister said. 

‘Bethel A.M.E. Pastor Sidney Williams Jr., during an online service, Feb. 28, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin,

“Justice occurs when systems are changed. In the words of Dr. King, ‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.’ Everyone loses when the tragic loss of life occurs. The bottom line is that we need to re-imagine ‘law enforcement’ and the criminalization of people who are ‘alleged suspects.’

“How many more deaths? How many more trials? How many more verdicts? How much longer before we confess that we have a structural problem that disproportionately affects Black people in this country?” Williams said.

The Wind of the Spirit immigrant resource center in Morristown helped Black Lives Matter organize a symbolic funeral procession for Floyd shortly after the Memorial Day killing.

“The verdict reminds our elders and teaches our youth that mass demonstrations work, and that there is much more work left to do,” said Karol Y. Ruiz, Esq., co-president of Wind of the Spirit.

Ruiz described Chauvin’s conviction as George Floyd’s legacy, and a “collective exhale for our country…after centuries of slavery, of racist eugenics, of Jim Crow laws, and corruption that fails to protect Black folk from police brutality.”

Morristown High School seniors Alia Masud and Natasha Dhar are co-presidents of Melanin Minds, a social activism club that celebrates African-American culture.

Tuesday’s conviction was “a breath of fresh air,” said Masud, likening the mass response to Floyd’s murder to the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s.

“While it’s a long time coming, this moral awakening is crucial to the survival of Black citizens,” she said, adding: “I’m excited for the future.”

“Considering the tragic history of qualified immunity for police officers in the U.S., it is a relief that a precedent-setting case such as this may finally be a turning point in targeting systemic racism within our justice system,” Dhar said.

Black Lives Matter Morristown rally for George Floyd, Morris Township, May 30, 2020. Photo by Marion Filler

Yet the verdict will be in vain, she cautioned, “if federal and state governments refuse to pass more legislation that consistently holds our police departments accountable” and ends police brutality.

OFFICIALS REACT

From Washington, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) echoed the student’s sentiment.

Expressing condolences to Floyd’s family, the Senator asserted Chauvin’s conviction won’t fix a “deeply broken” legal system.

“We must change this system that is killing us. We must change the complacency that allows it to persist. We must change our laws,” Booker, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

“True justice would be a country where George Floyd is alive today, where Daunte Wright is alive today, where Adam Toledo is alive today. Where countless others whose names history will never know are alive today,” he said.

Wright, 20, was shot earlier this month in a Minneapolis suburb by a white officer who allegedly mistook her gun for her Taser. Toledo, 13, was fatally shot this month in a confrontation with Chicago police.

Calling systemic racism “a stain on our nation’s soul,” President Biden hailed the verdict but said it’s “much too rare” and “not enough” in a country where Black men often have been treated as “less than human.”

Placard at Morris Township vigil for George Floyd, May 30, 2020. Photo by Marion Filler

Vice President Kamala Harris urged lawmakers to enact police reforms. “A measure of justice is not the same as equal justice,” Harris said.

“While we are glad that justice has prevailed in this case,” said Gov. Phil Murphy, “George Floyd’s murder is a painful reminder that inequality has deep roots in American history, starting during slavery and continuing to the present day in areas such as wages, health care, housing, education, and treatment by law enforcement.”

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said “this was the right verdict,” but he blamed a “flawed system” for laying the groundwork for Floyd’s death.

“It’s a system that too often fails to recruit police from the communities they guard, fails to train officers properly, fails to place just limits on the use of force against citizens, and fails to create mechanisms for the independent investigation of misconduct. It’s a system that badly needs reform—here and across the country,” Grewal said in a statement.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.), a former federal prosecutor, said “there was no ambiguity in this case. Derek Chauvin’s own law enforcement colleagues and superiors testified against him.” His conviction moves us “one step closer to fulfilling the pledge we make as a country to provide liberty and justice for all.”

The Sheriff’s Association of New Jersey is “respectful and appreciative” of the jury’s decision, said Morris County Sheriff James Gannon, the association’s president.

“Our criminal justice system, the people, have spoken and we are collectively indebted for their dutiful service. Together, we continue on our path towards justice. Facts over emotion is the only pathway regardless of personal temperament,” Gannon said.

As the anniversary of George Floyd’s death approaches, Kimbrough of Black Lives Matter Morristown said she is contemplating an event to celebrate his life.

She also plans to circle back with police chiefs and school officials she met last summer, to continue conversations about a safer future for people of color.

“I hope they’re ready. We are,” said Kimbrough, a social worker and alumna of Morristown High.

“We’re not going away. This is not something that disappears after a verdict. It won’t shut us down or shut us up.”

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