On May 25, 2020, George Floyd went into a grocery store and bought a pack of cigarettes. The store clerk called the police because he suspected the $20 bill was counterfeit and that Mr. Floyd may have been intoxicated. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life. He was not a threat to anyone.
The officers never asked Mr. Floyd if he knew the $20 bill was fake – a simple misdemeanor under Minnesota law – in many cases handled by issuing a ticket. Instead the world watched Officer Derek Chauvin press his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck while he begged for breath. After 9 ½ minutes of torture and agony, Mr. Floyd was dead. He was not a threat to anyone.
On April 20, 2021 the jury deliberated for 11 hours and found Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in the fatal arrest of George Floyd. Although this verdict is a major victory for the family of Mr. Floyd and for the Black community, we realize much work needs to be done.
Throughout the trial, the defense tried to convince the jury and the world that drugs and not Officer Chauvin’s knee pressing down on Mr. Floyd’s neck were the cause of his death. Drug use was pointed to as a justifiable reason for excessive force and assault, a response that is all too commonly inflicted on Black and other minorities. The defense attorneys were trying to pin Mr. Floyd’s death on him and let his murderer walk free.
Mr. Floyd, like all people of color and those whose lives have been marginalized, experience life differently from those whose lives have not been denigrated. They sustain the heavy weight of a mental health burden deeper than what most others face. When you live in fear every day – how can you be mentally healthy? Every time another unarmed Black person is killed, they are adding trauma to past trauma. The effects of police brutality on mental health is alarming. According to the NAACP — Police killings of unarmed Black Americans are responsible for more than 50 million additional days of poor mental health per year among Black Americans. This mental health burden is comparable to that associated with diabetes, a disease that strikes 1 in 5 Black Americans and they have increasingly less access to medical treatment compared with White Americans. Stress and trauma are one of the leading causes of drug use which can lead to addiction. We want those struggling with substance use disorders to know that we hear you, we see you and you are not defined by your addiction.
At Phoenix House California, we believe all individuals need to be treated with dignity and respect and we support the verdict. We encourage you to get involved and help end the stigma and inequitable treatment of Black and minority people struggling to survive in a system that metes out justice with a heavy hand, uses policy to deny rights and blames the victim for the crimes perpetrated against them.