In addition to the global COVID-19 crisis that’s disproportionately killing African Americans, black people around the country are battling the pandemic of racism. Since the country’s inception, racism has infected all facets of American society, from the criminal justice system to education to business to politics.
Although racism has always existed in our nation, the recent killings of unarmed black men and women have brought racialized police violence to the forefront of national discourse and incited a string of ongoing protests. For many, the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of white police officers in Minneapolis last week was just the tipping point.
During an interview on BLACK ENTERPRISE’s The New Norm with Selena Hill, civil rights attorney Areva Martin shared her legal expertise on Floyd’s death, the officers involved in his killing, and how voting can combat systemic racism.
The Trauma of Watching George Floyd Death’s
Martin revealed that she had trouble watching the 10-minute video recording of Floyd as he repeatedly told police “I can’t breathe” while a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck and back while three other officers watched on and didn’t intervene.
“I feel like I have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome,” she said. “I think the whole country is experiencing a level of trauma, the likes of which we’ve never seen.” She added, “police brutality isn’t new, but now it’s being filmed. And because it’s being filmed, we watch these inhumane and brutal acts, and they are traumatizing.”
According to her, there is no justification for the actions of former Officer Derek Chauvin, who nonchalantly kneeled on Floyd’s neck when he was already in handcuffs.
“What we witnessed on that videotape with Mr. Floyd is categorically unacceptable, excessive use of force, a complete denial of his civil rights, of his human rights,” said Martin. “Let’s be clear, he was kneeling on his neck, cutting off his airways, for what appeared to be…as much as 7, 8, maybe even 9 minutes. And the cavalier nature of those other officers, who were standing around listening to this man plead and beg for help — it’s just chilling.”
“I Can’t Breathe”
The legal commentator and talk show host pointed out the eerie similarities between Floyd’s death and that of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after a New York City police officer placed him in a chokehold while he repeatedly said: “I can ‘t breathe.” The officer seen choking Garner was never charged and remained on the police force for five years until he was finally fired in 2019. However, unlike in Garner’s case, Martin noted that the officers involved in Floyd’s death were quickly removed from duty. Days later, Chauvin was indicted and eventually charged with second-degree murder, while the other three officers were charged with aiding and abetting.
“There was a decision to terminate those officers immediately unlike in the Eric Garner case,” she noted. “So, in this case, Mr. Floyd’s case, there is videotape. There are the officers, there are eyewitnesses, [and] there were people standing around,” she said.
Take That Energy to the Polls
Martin went on to call for those who are outraged by the killing of Floyd and the criminal justice system at large to vote during local, state, and federal elections.
“One lawsuit is not likely to cause an entire police department to change.” Rather, she argued that communities of color need to elect unbiased district attorneys who will hold bad cops accountable in cases like this.
“It is the district attorney sitting at your local county district attorney’s office that is going to ultimately decide whether an officer [is] charged or not,” she said. “When election time rolls around in your county and you’re voting for that district attorney…you need to understand who’s on that ballot because that is such a critical decision.”
Martin also stressed the importance of mayoral races “because mayors select police chiefs and police chiefs select police officers,” she said.
The attorney and best-selling author went on to state that the 2020 presidential election will have a huge impact on communities of color since the president has the power to appoint an attorney general who sets policies that could lead to more police oversight and reform, in addition to appointing federal judges around the country and Supreme Court Justices.
“What people need to realize is the president is one person. It’s the people that the president brings into their cabinet that run this country: the attorney general, the secretary of education, the secretary of labor, secretary of treasury. They are making the policies that impact the everyday lives, particularly for people of color,” said Martin.
She added that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump “have packed the federal courts with some of the most conservative and I’m going to even say incompetent judges that will have lifetime tenure on the federal bench. And those are the judges [you see] when you get a drug charge and you’re standing before a federal court and they’re making decisions about whether you’re going to go to jail for life on a cocaine charge.”
She concluded, “So if you care about what happened to Mr. Floyd, if you care about Breonna Taylor, if you care about criminal justice reform—we need Joe Biden more than ever.”
Watch Areva Martin’s interview on The New Norm With Selena Hill below.