Three weeks ago, the world watched and listened to the opening statements of the Derek Chauvin trial. The Prosecution showed the video of when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had George Floyd pinned to the pavement with his knee for over 9 minutes. Prosecutors charged Chauvin with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Minneapolis police officers arrested the 46-year-old black man on suspicion of forgery, and he was handcuffed. After he was pinned down against the pavement, he repeatedly told officers, “I can’t breathe”, and he died. The video of George Floyd’s senseless death was one of the most horrific, monstruous crimes that I have ever witnessed. His death set off a wave of protests across the United States. These protestors have asked for greater police accountability.
The Washington Post conducted a study which identified that police officers have shot and killed 5,400 people since 2015. Are police officers held accountable? The Washington Post reports that, “There are so many terms and conditions in the collective bargaining agreements that insulate police from accountability and transparency.” Excessive police use of force against Black Americans has received recent media attention with the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
But what are the statistics for Native Americans killed by police officers? Native Americans are killed by police encounters at a higher rate than any other racial group, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. However, the number of Native American deaths is relatively low, an estimated 22 Native Americans and Native Alaskans were killed by police in 2016.
Black Lives Matter has articulated and drawn attention to systemic institutional racism. According to the Pew Research Center, hate-crime violence reached a 16-year high in 2018. Washington’s reported number of hate crimes rose from 506 to 542 in 2018 or a 7% increase, as reported by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. This rate places Washington State into third place in the national rankings, trailing only behind California and New York.
Native Americans have experienced both overt and covert racism in many ways. Many tribes were forcibly relocated off their homelands. Families were torn apart, and children removed to boarding schools forcing them to abandon their culture and language. Many children suffered irreparable abuse. The devastation caused by federal policies of expansion, acculturation, and assimilation and by politicians with racist attitudes, led to the near eradication of Native American peoples and their cultures. The effect of this evil remains today with high rates of poverty, unemployment, inadequate health care, inequal access to education, economic inequality, and the exploitation of natural resources. Our children deserve equal access to educational opportunities, such as broadband access, language programs, and to learn about their history and culture. Our children need support, acceptance, guidance, and a plethora of opportunities in order to maximize their potential.
Today, the jury of the Derek Chauvin trial returned guilty verdicts on all three counts: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Derek Chauvin became the first white police officer to be convicted of killing a Black person. A Black life mattered. Native American lives matter. Today, justice was served and provided hope for the future. Hope that law enforcement officers will stop brutality and discrimination. Hope that this is not an end but a beginning. This verdict will not stop racism and there is a lot of work that needs to take place. Let us pray for George Floyd’s family, especially his children. Let us hope that his life did not end in vain, but instead, how George Floyd’s life changed the world for our future generations.