Bankole Thompson, the editor-in-chief and dean of The PuLSE Institute wrote the front page column in Wednesday’s April 21 keepsake edition of The Detroit News about the meaning and historic significance of the verdict rendered against former White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd last summer.
Thompson, who is a twice-a-week opinion columnist at The Detroit News and one of the most outspoken journalists in the country on issues of racial justice and reforming the institution of policing hailed the monumental jury decision in his column as “One of the best in the American experiment and in the protracted fight for equality.”
“As he took his last breaths last summer under the suffocating knee of White Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, George Floyd, who has since been made a national martyr for racial justice and police reform, cried out multiple times: ‘I can’t breathe.’ Helplessly, he wept and called upon his late mother to rescue him from the clutches of police violence, while telling her to let his kids know how much he loved them as a dutiful and loving father would do,” Thompson wrote in the column. “Floyd’s cry represented the cries of many Blacks in this nation who have long concluded that our criminal justice system is skewed against them — that it renders Black people guilty until proven innocent, and White people innocent until proven guilty.”
Thompson noted that “The conviction of Chauvin is like a shot across the bow for the entire law enforcement apparatus of this nation, especially for those who have chosen brutality over constitutional policing, those who have opted for excessive use of force as opposed to respecting the humanity of everyone because they are sworn to protect us all — regardless of race.”
Thompson in his column cited civil rights leader Rev Jesse Jackson, the president and founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition as well as leading Detroit minister Rev. Solomon Kinloch, the senior pastor of Triumph Church, who both said the verdict was crucial at this juncture of the push for racial justice reforms at every facet of our national life.
“Justice prevailed today as the first-ever police officer was convicted for killing a Black person in Minnesota. Until this verdict, police had the de facto authority to legally take a Black person’s life as if it didn’t matter without any apparent consequences,” Jackson said. “I am relieved but not content because the police killings have to stop. The jurors’ verdict is clearly a historic cross-examination of our relationship with law enforcement. We must build on this moment to make America a more perfect union.”
For his part Kinloch added, “The guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin case is an example of criminal accountability long overdue,” Kinloch told me. “This is another step in the long-sought-after quest for equity in policing in the Black and Brown communities.”
Understanding the role such a verdict will place in history, Thompson explained to readers of the daily newspaper that: “The impact of this verdict will reverberate for generations to come because it represents a seminal moment in the urgent national quest for serious changes in how law enforcement should engage Black and Brown communities. What we are witnessing is a turning point for history and for the betterment of the nation. There is a need to not only ensure that justice is done in cases where officers violate the civil and constitutional rights of Black people, but also ensure respect for human rights is the bedrock principle of every officer who pulls over a driver, Black or White.”
The column also put the searchlight on the troubled Detroit police department.
“At the local level, Detroit’s police department under the leadership of James Craig, which is mired in a lot of questionable actions and lawsuits over allegations of excessive use of force against Floyd demonstrators, must begin to represent a new era of Black dignity and respect for the right of residents who disagree with the policing tactics of Craig, including the use of the controversial facial recognition technology,” Thompson wrote.
Ron Fournier, the former longtime journalist who worked at The National Journal and the Atlantic magazine before serving as the Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press has been following the Chauvin trial closely. He told The PuLSE Institute that the verdict is the beginning of much needed work to end police brutality and the killing of Black people.
“Call me skeptical. While a stone-cold murderer sits in jail this morning, my mind returns to the statement issued by the Minneapolis Police Department that day: They called George Floyd’s murder a ‘medical incident during police interaction.’ That lie was only exposed because a teenage girl bravely stood her ground and shot video of Mr. Floyd’s murder,” said Fournier, a native Detroiter who is the President of Truscott Rossman communications firm in Detroit’s Eastern Market. “The fact is, the first, second, and third instinct of the Police Department was to lie – and that remains a harrowing example of systemic racism. I hope Chauvin rots in jail, but today is not a day for celebration. Today is the first day of our hardest work.”