MINNEAPOLIS — George Floyd has finally been laid to rest.
Tuesday, after memorials in Minneapolis, North Carolina, and Houston, the rituals ended. After the family funeral, the procession took him to Houston Memorial Gardens, the same cemetery as his mama. It was her he cried out for as he gasped his final breaths.
It’s been more than two weeks since an officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck until he died on a Minneapolis street. Protests against brutality and systemic racism have risen in all 50 states, D.C., and around the world.
The four officers involved in the murder of Floyd have finally been arrested and charged, but the uprising was never about one case, not even in Minneapolis. The fight is 400 years in the making. And this is only the latest round in the ring.
At the first of Floyd’s memorials in Minneapolis last week, Al Sharpton declared, “This is the era to deal with policing and criminal justice.”
On Sunday, after years of activists laying the groundwork, nine Minneapolis City Council members pledged to start the process of disbanding the Minneapolis Police Department.
There’s no plan in place on how to end MPD. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Ron Harris, chief resilience officer for Minneapolis, believes bit by bit a culture shift could happen even though it is likely to take years.
“We can do it piecemeal. Slowly take away certain responsibilities one at a time," he said. “Intoxication? Send the chemical dependency unit funded by the city. Domestic? Send the outside organization supported by city funds . . . Identify who is better qualified to deliver the service, and slowly dismantle the department."
Across the country, movements to defund the police, to push justice reform, and to abolish the police are rising. In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh is considering reallocating funds to better support communities. City Councilors Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu are at the forefront of calls for transparency, reform, and demilitarization.
And Congress is taking first steps. Monday, Democrats proposed the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 that would create law enforcement training reform, limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents, and more. But this type of structural change cannot be partisan.
In Camden, N.J., the city dissolved its police department in 2013 amid a public safety crisis due to both a skyrocketing murder rate and police violence. They rebuilt and reformed and it worked.
No one can say what the future holds for policing in America. But most people agree change has to come. And they want to see some movement now.
At East 38th and Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, the site remains a memorial, a place for collective mourning, a gathering for Black Lives Matter.
Bayou, a Minneapolis artist and community organizer, paints at the sacred intersection. He said the mobilization is not going to stop anytime soon.
“Folks are ready to understand not only what abolish the police means as a statement but the actual concrete steps you can take to abolish the police,” he said.
For a first-time protester like Hunter Reeve, it feels sudden and like it’s been a long time coming all at once. And to him, that’s hopeful but scary, too.
“I don’t necessarily know if a reform of sorts might work,” said Reeve, 23, a St. Paul musician. “Everyone is calling for abolishing the police. People are angry about these decades of police brutality that is essentially an offspring of slavery and lynching. It’s the latest re-creation of that idea in the system. I fear there will be another. I’m just looking at everything around me and trying to take action and see how I can help.”
Everyone taking action, on the ground in protests, through donations, and making calls to their elected officials is a signal that like Reeve, people want to help. And they are tired of America’s normal.
Hundreds of years of systemic racism kneeled on the neck of Floyd, killed Breonna Taylor, and murdered Ahmaud Arbery. The violence of America that places profit over people makes equity and justice impossible. And a system that believes in power over protection leads to police brutality that we see even now, against protesters. This is why the uprising grows.
Callie Chamberlain, founder of the New Leaders Council — Twin Cities, said that as we forge forward, community wellness must be a priority.
“We value the illusion of public safety for some over investment in communal health, well-being, and durability,” Chamberlain said. “If we moved the money overfunding police to addressing known social determinants of health: transportation, housing, food security, education, and health care — our society would be radically different.”
And though activists have pushed for this type of community progress for years, it’s what happened in Minneapolis that is creating an immediacy.
Seeing someone so callously killed and watching it happen for over 8 minutes is something the world cannot unsee or rationalize as they have done with the many others killings of unarmed Black people.
“White supremacy is an institution with legally funded strategies to protect it. That is how we have over-policing and funding for policing,” said Erin Maye Quade, advocacy director of Gender Justice in St. Paul. “We got here because we in this country and in this state have valued white supremacy more than we have valued equity, more than we have valued Black lives, and I truly think that this is a moment where we have the ability to stop doing that.”
In Minneapolis, Representative Ayanna Pressley didn’t just attend the memorial service. She had a community listening session, too. Already, she has cointroduced a resolution to condemn police brutality, racial profiling, and excessive force. Last Thursday, she and Representative Justin Amash introduced a bill to end qualified immunity, a protection that shields police from lawsuits.
Now is the time to denounce police brutality and racism, Pressley said in Minneapolis later after the service.
“You know, I used to think that the pathway to justice was healing. And so that meant recognition, acknowledgment of the original sin — which has led to this moment. But now I know that there will be no healing without justice," Pressley said. “We will be judged by this moment. History will record this moment. We have a choice to make. You have a choice to make. Do you want to be on the side of justice and healing or do you want to be on the side of silence and complicit in the devaluing of Black lives?”
For as long as Black people and other marginalized people are oppressed and brutalized in this country, there will be unrest. There will be protest.
George Floyd deserves to rest in peace. And as we look at life after his death, we must make choices that allow us to live and thrive rather than fight to survive. We need justice to live in peace so we don’t have to die to find it.
Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee and on Instagram @abeautifulresistance.