New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has addressed the protests taking place across the country in response to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
On May 25, Floyd, who was Black, was arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Following the arrest, the first video of white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck surfaced. He can be heard repeatedly telling police “I can’t breathe.” The unarmed and handcuffed Floyd died during the arrest.
Police claim that Floyd “physically resisted,” but additional video footage contradicts that statement. One video showed three out of the four officers involved standing on Floyd, while the other stands nearby.
Chauvin, who has a record of complaints, was arrested on May 29 and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Many are calling for the other three officers—Tou Thou, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng—to be charged for Floyd’s death as well.
Booker addressed his feelings on the Minneapolis protests that have unfolded over the past week in an interview with MSNBC.
“It’s gut-wrenching and deeply painful,” Booker said to see “another unarmed Black man” killed at the hands of police officers.
Addressing Institutionalized Racism
Minneapolis streets emptied by the COVID-19 pandemic have been occupied by protests in the nights following Floyd’s death as activists call for justice and an end to police violence that disproportionately affects more Black Americans. The state has responded with police in riot gear with teargas, rubber bullets, flash bombs, baton rounds. Police have responded similarly to protests nationwide.
On Saturday evening, 41,000 members of the National Guard moved into the city to aid police in dispersing crowds in Minneapolis.
Some businesses have experienced looting or burning in the midst of protests. Protestors burned the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct, where the four officers involved in Floyd’s death worked, on May 28.
Booker added that Floyd’s death is not an isolated incident, but rather part of the country’s history of systematic racism.
“This kind of racism, this kind of bigotry is so institutionalized that it puts so many of our fellow countrymen and women at risk every day,” he said. Booker noted that it affects the criminal justice system, health care, whether or not someone lives in a neighborhood with clean air, and beyond.
‘The Presence of Justice’
“We have deep problems in our country,” Booker said, “and what is heartbreaking to me is the utter lack of urgency to do something about it.”
He added that the lack of action on the part of lawmakers to create better accountability within the policing system is part of that.
It’s for this reason that Booker empathizes with the protestors. This is despite the fact that he condemns violence “in every form,” because their calls for justice have gone unheard.
“We need to condemn the conditions that make such protest, such outrage, such a regular thing in our country,” he said.
Booker explained that “the reality for issues like this, as time goes on will be a test of whether we understand that peace is not merely the absence of violence, it’s the presence of justice. And so many people are living in this country without peace.”
‘You Have to Be Anti-Racist’
He recalled his parents having conversations with him about police when he was a child. Booker said that he wishes that decades later, there weren’t still “hundreds of thousands of parents feeling like that have to teach their Black boys about how not to get killed by police.”
“The question…is not are you or are you not a racist. It’s are you or are you not doing something about racism,” he said, adding that social injustices “don’t just go away.”
“It’s not enough not to be racist,” Booker said, paraphrasing 76-year-old civil rights activist and fellow vegan Angela Davis.
You have to be anti-racist. You have to…actively confront the truth within our society, raising it up so there can be a deeper healing,” Booker said. “And finding a constructive language for our country to have conversations not only after some horrific act of violence, but in the aftermath of that to prevent more acts of violence.”
Who Was George Floyd?
Floyd was a Houston native and father of two children, ages six and 22, living in Minnesota. He worked as a restaurant security guard for five years. But, he lost his job due to the state’s stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to his loved ones, Floyd known as a protector and provider in the community.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey echoed Booker’s sentiments about the escalating protests the day after the Third Precinct was burned.
“Brick and mortar are not as important as life,” he said. “The symbolism of a building cannot outweigh the significance of life.”