The NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, hosted a virtual town hall Wednesday, encouraging Americans to channel their anger into action to change the relationship between policing and race.
The hourlong event featured Sen. Cory Booker; Rep. Val Demmings of Florida; CNN political commentator Keith Boykin; Cedric Alexander, a retired public safety director in Dekalb County, Georgia; and the organization’s president, Derrick Johnson.
Justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the many other black people killed by police “means holding police departments accountable for their role in terrorizing our neighborhoods, bringing an end to the criminalization of Black skin, and dismantling the systems that perpetuate racism, domestic terrorism, and unjust policing,” the NAACP said in a news release.
On Thursday, the organization is calling for a national day of mourning, and for 8 minutes a 46 seconds of silence to be observed at 12:45 p.m. PST — marking the amount of time that Floyd lay on the street with former Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck.
More than a week of protesting since Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police has already resulted in change, Demmings said.
“The charges being brought against those officers was a is a major accomplishment,” she said.
But Boykin noted extreme measures had to be taken before charges were filed Wednesday against all four officers involved.
“It took nine days of protests, millions of marches, thousands of arrests, the tear gassing of peaceful demonstrators, and a progressive black state attorney general just to get the four police officers who killed George Floyd in broad daylight on video even charged with a crime,” he said. “That’s where we are.”
Alexander commented that the frustration apparent on U.S. streets is the culmination of not only violence at the hands of law enforcement, but smaller aggressions, like a white woman who last month called the police on a black man bird-watching in Central Park after he asked her to follow the rules and put her dog on a leash.
“Right now we’re angry, we’re mad, we’re sad, we’re fighting and we’re fearful,” he said. “Because people don’t know if they send their children out in the car to a local store, whether they’ll be able to come back alive.”
The next move, the panelists agreed, is for the rage to be channeled into civic engagement.
“Let it take you somewhere where you want to go,” Alexander said. “And that’s to a voting booth, into your congressional office, into your state offices and into your local elected city officials’ offices. Share your concerns constructively, but let them know, and hold them accountable.”
There are more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. — and the public must put pressure on each to hold them accountable, Demmings said.
She avdised departments of all sizes to review their hiring and training processes, as well as policies surrounding use of force and deescalation. And if they already haven’t, they should ban the use of neck restraints, she said.
“If we put our money into it and we look at our history, there is no problem that is too big for us to solve, if we work together to get it done,” she said.
She added that the House Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on racial violence and law enforcement next week.
Booker said he’s partnering with California Sen. Kamala Harris to introduce reform at the federal level, including broader data collection to support police force accountability.
The U.S. also needs to work toward redirecting prison money toward public good, he said, noting that more African Americans are currently incarcerated than were held as slaves in 1850.
“Instead of dealing with mental health care, we incarcerate the mentally ill in America. Instead of dealing with drug treatment, we incarcerate the addicted. Instead of dealing with poverty, we have criminalized the poor in this country. Instead of dealing with education, we deny it.”
And, Demmings said, there’s some encouragement in the fact that Americans of all stripes are fighting police misconduct and racial injustice — things that were previously viewed as “black problems.”
“Things are certainly different now,” she said. “They feel different now, they look different now, because what we have seen — persons of all ages from all colors and backgrounds taking to the streets in cities throughout this nation to express their displeasure and send a strong message that enough is enough.”