One day after a jury found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd on all three counts, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards joined several elected officials for a rally in the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on April 21.
Like many others, Richards said he didn’t expect that Chauvin would be found guilty. He recalled the raw emotions he felt when the verdict in the Sean Bell case came in, acquitting the officers involved in the shooting death of Bell on all charges.
Bell, who was Richards’ neighbor, died in the early morning of his wedding on Nov. 25, 2006, when plainclothes and undercover NYPD officers fired a total of 50 rounds at Bell and his two friends.
“At that moment, we never thought we would get justice or see justice in this country,” he said.
Richards said that many Black men, himself included, felt Chauvin’s knee on their necks and that centuries of racism and injustice left them so disillusioned, they couldn’t even imagine a guilty verdict.
“We’ve always felt that our lives did not matter. Every time, one of us lost our lives, and there was no justice served. It didn’t matter what our title was. We felt devalued,” the former councilman said.
While Richards considered Monday’s verdict a step in the right direction, he reminded everyone that a lot of work still needed to be done and that the fight for justice was not over.
Besides calling for the implementation of policies like investing in underserved communities, Richards urged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
If passed, the act would ban chokeholds and carotid holds at the federal level, create a federal registry of police misconduct complaints and disciplinary actions, and prohibit no-knock warrants, among others.
Richards emphasized that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” should not be misconstrued as an attack on other communities or law enforcement.
“It should be viewed as a truth which we can all stand firmly on. But this only happens when we practice police accountability,” Richards said. “When we hold rogue officers accountable, that is truly when we honor the shield. We can decide now to have true liberty and justice for all.”
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said she felt relief and pride that the jury rendered a guilty verdict, but also sadness and anger at the brutal murder of George Floyd. Katz believes that police accountability creates an environment of trust.
“So as we stand together, I just want to reiterate my commitment as district attorney to push to increase accountability to help rebuild the trust that’s so sorely tested in so many of our communities here in Queens County,” said Katz, a former Queens borough president.
Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, who represents the 28th District in southeast Queens and serves as the chair of Committee on Public Safety, said the verdict was a step in the right direction sending a message to police officers who think they can harm or kill without impunity that they will be held accountable for their actions.
“We must continue the fight to achieve this vision of true justice. We must demand and push for systemic change, change that is lasting, meaningful and impactful for every individual in our communities across this country,” Adams said.
State Senator John Liu, Assembly members Jenifer Rajkumar, Khaleel Anderson and David Weprin, and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer agreed that justice was served in the George Floyd case but that the push for more significant police reform was still as urgent as ever.
Liu said believes that most officers join the force for the rights reason but that it was time to weed out the “bad apples.”
“We have to insist along with our New York’s finest that change is good. It’s good for the community. And it’s good for our police officers,” Liu expressed.
Anderson said that the guilty verdict meant that the criminal justice system recognizes Black lives but reminded everyone that this was only one sentencing where justice was served.
“There are so many other lives that have been lost where there’s been no officer accountability,” Anderson said. “So this is our moment to ensure that we press on with legislative reforms, with procedural changes, to really root out the elements of racism that exist within law enforcement.”
Rajkumar, who was recently appointed to the Assembly’s Subcommittee on Diversity in Law, will be working with legal partners across the state to increase justice.
“We have a long way to go. I think of the words of Martin Luther King, who famously said that ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ I hope it does. I believe it does,” Rajkumar said.
Weprin referred to the verdict as historic but acknowledged that it was only a temporary victory.
“It’s so important that we all stand together when injustice is done, and also celebrate, at least temporarily, when justice is done, as was done yesterday. I also would like to point out that it was great that we had such a diverse jury making this decision,” said Weprin, a candidate for city comptroller.
Van Bramer, who is running against Richards for Queens borough president, appreciated that both were able to rise above politics and show unity.
“We have an obligation, a moral, ethical obligation to stand together as one borough, all of us united in grief at the loss of George Floyd and far too many others. But also in the pursuit of a lasting and permanent justice. And that’s why it’s important for me to be here today,” Van Bramer said.
The rally concluded with nine minutes and 29 seconds of silence for George Floyd and his family — the exact amount of time Chauvin had his knee pressed into George Floyd’s neck, which led to Floyd’s death.