Martyrdom and change

6/4/2020, 6 p.m.
George Floyd is now a martyr, his death precipitating marches across the nation and around the globe. His picture is ...

George Floyd is now a martyr, his death precipitating marches across the nation and around the globe. His picture is a symbol for people of conscience everywhere.

Now, his life and his death stand for something greater than himself — racial justice, equity and reform.

But the same malignant forces of bias and terrorism that allowed a police officer to put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes and killing him can be seen in cities like Richmond where, on a lesser scale, police disregarded the law and pepper-sprayed hundreds of peaceful protesters around the Lee Monument on Monday night.

Gratefully, that was a non-lethal action. It should be a wake-up call to Richmond Police Chief Will Smith, Mayor Levar M. Stoney, City Council and all elected and appointed city officials that something is rotten in the police department and that change must be immediate and obligatory.

The apologies of Chief Smith and Mayor Stoney are not enough.

While City Councilman Michael Jones has asked for Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette W. McEachin to investigate the police tear-gassing that occurred roughly 30 minutes before the 8 p.m. curfew, we believe an independent investigation is needed. How can we expect prosecutors to conduct an impartial investigation of police with whom they work closely day by day in the city?

This is another reason why we demand creation of an independent citizen review panel to help ensure those who are sworn to protect and serve the community are held accountable. We are certain that funding such an independent panel with the authority to act would lessen the likelihood of police officers engaging in unlawful actions that potentially could cost the city huge legal payouts.

Our patience has worn thin. Empty rhetoric by elected officials at all levels is worthless. The scale and persistence of protests in Richmond and across the nation signal that people are clamoring for real change. No one wants to live in fear of being harmed or killed by police simply because of the color of their skin. Encounters with police should not become a matter of life or death. We cannot keep praying that a cell phone video will be our savior.

For students, young freedom fighters and OGs alike, this is more than a civics lesson. The haunting video of George Floyd’s death pricks the conscience of right-minded people around the globe to take action for change in the face of brutality, inhumanity and injustice. The graphic video demonstrates even to white people the need to dismantle the racist poli- cies and practices within the criminal justice, health care, education, employment and housing systems that were deliberately designed to keep a knee on the necks of black people and from which white people have benefited.

While we welcome the energy and efforts of all people who share our cause, we caution that some people showing up on our city’s streets have different motives. Their vandalism and looting are designed to purposely undermine our mission and subvert our interests for their own agendas of hatred. They are spurred by an unhinged president and white supremacist sympathizer who announced this week his intent to turn federal troops against the people of the United States. We have to make sure that their racism doesn’t pervert our demand for justice.

Racism is a public health crisis. And racism kills. We must stop it from killing again.