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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Justice for George Floyd

Rania Mankarious
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Rania Mankarious

Rania Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers of Houston, provides perspectives on the news in this Sunday Mornings with Rania blog. 

The video footage of George Floyd – who respectfully and with great pain spent nearly nine minutes pleading for his life - stopped us all in our tracks, turning our attention from the coronavirus pandemic to another plague - that of black lives in America. While this marks the last week of school for many, may the death of Mr. Floyd be the first lesson for all this summer: the brutal killing of an unarmed, non-dangerous individual, whether due to race, creed, gender or orientation - will never be tolerated or allowed, especially when it is committed at the hands of those of power.  

What Happened
It all started when Mr. Floyd, a 46-year-old Houston native, went to the Cup Foods on Chicago Avenue South on May 25, 2020 at approximately 8 p.m. Officers with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) received a call that at nearly the same time, there had been a “forgery in progress” with someone paying for groceries with a counterfeit $20 bill (a non-violent, low-level offense by all accounts).

Mr. Floyd, having exited the store, was sitting in a minivan with two people when officers asked him to exit his vehicle. A brief struggle ensued; moments later, Mr. Floyd is seen handcuffed and being led to the sidewalk by two MPD officers. Additional law enforcement arrive as Mr. Floyd lays on the ground almost under a Minnesota Police vehicle. The scene turns deadly when, fully pinned, and in distress due to a knee at his neck, Mr. Floyd repeatedly explains he cannot breathe. Mind you, he is not armed or resisting; he is however (and rightfully so) calmly pleading for air for almost nine whole minutes. Mr. Floyd eventually loses consciousness and is taken to Hennepin County Medical Center where he is tragically pronounced dead.   

Mr. Floyd’s Death has Raised Many Issues
As the CEO of the largest public safety nonprofit in our area, I am an avid supporter of law enforcement and I thank them for their work daily. That said, I do not blindly condone every action taken by every officer. I echo the sentiments of Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo who stated: “The death of Mr. Floyd is deeply disturbing and should be of concern to all Americans.” He goes on to say, “The officers’ actions are inconsistent with the training and protocols of our profession.” So, let’s look at the issues Mr. Floyd’s senseless death highlights: 

  • Law enforcement arrived at the scene, used excessive force, caused the death of a man who did not commit a violent crime, did not protest, was without a weapon and was in full compliance. 
  • Law enforcement officers who use excessive force, while showing a complete lack of judgement, pose a threat to society; their authority alone makes them dangerous and their abuse of power makes them reckless. 
  • The firing of the MPD officers involved was critical and the investigation and charging of their actions, necessary without question. All agree. In fact, the “Justice for George Floyd” page, which called for the firing and charging of those involved, became the fastest growing petition ever.  
  • The horrific actions of the four officers in Mr. Floyd’s case, Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, does not mean that all law enforcement officers are bad - we must remember this
  • We are more together than we are apart. It’s critical to recognize that the nation overwhelmingly stands together, saying in unison that enough is enough. The vast majority of us are not divided on this issue. 
  • Emotions run deep and sadness and fear must be expressed and heard but the destruction of cities, homes, and neighborhoods; the looting of businesses; the arsons, the burglaries and the thefts, the assaults of others and the shooting of individuals - will not solve anything. It must stop.

It’s Time for Solutions 
According to the Los Angeles Times, “About 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police. That makes them 2.5 times more likely than white men and boys to die during an encounter with cops.” There is a real fear amongst the black community, especially amongst boys and men, of being pulled over while driving or being stopped while walking in a neighborhood or taking a run through a park. How is this the case in 2020? How can this be the case in a country that prides itself on fighting for the rights of all? Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey recently said: “Being black in America should not be a death sentence.” Absolutely not and our nation should not tolerate it, even one more time. So let’s offer solutions. Let’s start somewhere. 

  • Chiefs of police across America have a role to play. Houston is blessed with HPD Chief Art Acevedo who has made his position on the killing of Mr. Floyd as clear as day. We need more chiefs of police not just sharing their outrage but being proactive in the training, discussions and educational classes of their cadets and their officers. Furthermore, consequences must be spelled out. We need to make it abundantly clear that not only will society not stand for this, but their departments will not tolerate it. Termination and charging can and will take place.  
  • It’s time to review the Criminal Codes of Conduct from state to state. The Minneapolis Police policy allows the use of neck restraints, “Defined as compressing one or both sides of a person’s neck with an arm or leg, without applying direct pressure to the trachea or airway.” The policy goes on to state that the neck restraint “may be used against a subject who is actively resisting.” Clearly, none of this was adhered to in Mr. Floyd’s case. Not only did they restrict his breathing, but they used this method of restraint for a subject who was not actively resisting. That said, should this use of restraint be removed all together? Policies in all states across America should be reviewed.   
  • We must demand that state legislation (in states where it exists), which prohibits the “immediate termination” of dangerous officers, be removed. Chiefs of police should not have their hands tied and should be able to act quickly, if needed, to remove an officer in question. 
  • We must also ask our legislators to enact something which bans the re-hiring of certain terminated officers. Too often, officers removed for cause in one city, easily get re-hired in a different area. 
  • Training must increase addressing the response of other officers on the scene when they clearly witness bad policing. Too many times, it appears that other officers “stand by.” I wonder if these officers are afraid to speak out? Or maybe they are prohibited from questioning other officers during an active scene? Or are they respecting a certain chain of command? This specific issue is complex, and must be explored and addressed from within.
  • It’s time to talk about how to continue to create change. Change will never come through chaos. Will the next generation be able to break this cycle? 

Justice for George Floyd
Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins
recently shared that Mr. Floyd and fired police officer Derek Chauvin knew each other well. Both men worked at El Nuevo Rodeo on Lake Street where they were both bouncers at that restaurant for 17 years. That added fact makes the brutal nature of the scene even more difficult to understand. Regardless, on Friday, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, Chauvin was officially charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. This will not bring Mr. Floyd back but it is 100 percent a step in the right direction. 

This nation is clearly going through a difficult time. Sickness, economic strife, political unrest and chaos are brewing in our cities - but we must focus on what binds us, builds us and makes us stronger. We are each other’s greatest advocates, greatest assets, and greatest champions. And, as a society, between the many movements that have recently taken shape, we are clearly getting on the same page with one voice making it clear we will not tolerate injustice, period. There is nothing we can do to bring George Floyd back, but we must not let his death be in vain.

Let’s keep this message loud and strong in George Floyd’s honor and in honor of those who lost their lives before him. And may we forever hold their families in our hearts and prayers. Out of respect for them, let’s not trample chaotically over their loss but together rise with a fixated determination that changed our course moving forward. 

For more on this topic, see Responding to Acts of Racial Violence by Pooja Salhotra. 

Editor's note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.

Read past Sunday Mornings with Rania posts here. Find more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston on their website or follow them on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Comment below or email her at [email protected]. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter.

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