No Justice, No Peace, Same Cry, New Meanings

TRIGGER WARNING: The following contains information regarding violence and hate aimed against Black Americans.

A cry from the heart and a rallying cry. No Justice, No Peace. Multiple meanings. There can be no real peace without justice. Without justice, there will be no peace. Individuals can’t have peace without a fixed justice system. A call for action. Fix the broken justice system, bring peace to communities. Change the laws, like Stand Your Ground and Stop and Frisk. Change the culture. Knees off necks. Work for justice, work for peace.

"From the death of Michael Griffith on, we declare that if there is no justice there cannot be peace."
-Viola Plummer, Protest Organizer, Feb. 28, 1987, the New York Amsterdam News

The Chauvin trial is just another struggle in a long history for racial justice. In the United States, the criminal justice system presumes innocence and prosecutors must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt to a jury. However, research has shown that those principles apply primarily to white citizens, while Black defendants tend to be treated as guilty until proven innocent. The Chauvin trial is also the center for debates over the point at which police force becomes violence and when the use of force is legitimate. Police are allowed to use force to prevent violence. Under U.S. law, force is illegitimate when done “in the course of committing an offense.”

Sgt. David Pleoger, Chauvin’s former supervisor, stated in the trial: “When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint.”

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified, “To continue to apply that level of force to a person proned-out, handcuffed behind their back, that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy.” He declared, “I vehemently disagree that that was an appropriate use of force.”

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, the potential for real justice will only come from discussions and progress toward addressing the policing and justice systems, educating police departments and other systemic changes.

The Timeline
Here's how it went down.

“To me the phrase "No Justice, No Peace" is not so much a threat as much as it is a cry of the heart. It is not simply a call to protest, but also a naming of the powers and what those powers have done.”
-Charles Howard, University of Pennsylvania, Wake of the Trayvon Martin Verdict, Huffington Post, 7/14/13

  • May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota for trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd told officers he couldn’t breathe and called out for his mother before becoming unresponsive. The officer continued to kneel on his neck for an additional 2 minutes and 53 seconds

  • May 26, 2020: Police issue a statement saying that Floyd died after a “medical incident” and that he physically resisted and appeared to be in medical distress. Minutes later, bystander video is posted online. Bystander video shows Floyd crying, “I can’t breathe,” multiple times before going limp. He’s pronounced dead at a hospital.Police release another statement saying the FBI will help investigate. Chauvin and three other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — are fired. Protests begin.The four police officers involved in the incident were fired

  • May 27, 2020: Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey calls for criminal charges against Chauvin.

  • May 29, 2020: Mr. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Then-President Trump tweets about “thugs” in Minneapolis protests and warns: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

  • May 31, 2020: Black Lives Matter protests broke out in more than 75 U.S. cities

  • June 1, 2020: Experts hired by Floyd’s family and the Hennepin County Medical Examiner conclude his death was a homicide, but they differ on what caused it.

  • June 3, 2020: A second degree murder charge was added to Chauvin’s sentence, along with charges for the three other officers for assistance to the murder.

  • June 4, 2020: A funeral service for George Floyd is held in Minneapolis.

  • June 6, 2020: Massive, peaceful protests happen nationwide to demand police reform.

  • June 7, 2020: A majority of Minneapolis City Council members say they support dismantling the police department. The idea later stalls.

  • June 8, 2020: Proposal from Democrats for police reform is shut down by Republicans

  • June 10, 2020: White House issued proposals regarding police reform.

  • June 10, 2020: Floyd’s brother testifies before the House Judiciary Committee for police accountability.

  • June 16, 2020: then-President Trump signs an executive order to encourage better police practices and establish a database to track officers with excessive use-of-force complaints.

  • June 18, 2020: The amount of time that Mr. Chauvin held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck was confirmed (7 minutes and 46 seconds).

  • July 21, 2020: The Minnesota Legislature passes a broad slate of police accountability measures that include bans on neck restraints, chokeholds and so-called warrior-style training.

  • August 3, 2020: Police body camera footage is released of the police officers involved in the arrest, showing a panicked Floyd struggling with officers minutes before his death saying, “I can’t breathe.”

  • March 9, 2021 : The first potential jurors are questioned for Chauvin’s trial after a day’s delay for pretrial motions.

  • March 12, 2021: Minneapolis agrees to pay $27-million settlement to Floyd family.

  • March 23, 2021: Jury selection completed with 12 jurors and three alternates.

  • March 29, 2021: Chauvin’s trial begins.

  • April 11, 2021: During a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a White police officer.

  • April 12, 2021: Judge declines request to sequester Chauvin jury because of Wright shooting.

  • April 12, 2021: Testimony in court confirms that drugs were not involved in George’s death, it was caused by low and restrictive oxygen levels.

  • April 19, 2021: Closing Arguments begin.

The Trial
Here's what's going down.

“Convictions won’t save lives.” Derecka Purnell

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year old Black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota while being arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. During the arrest, Derek Chauvin, a White police officer working for the Minneapolis Police Department, knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. George Floyd complained of breathing problems before being restrained on the ground with Chauvin’s knee on him. As he was moved to the pavement, Floyd expressed fear and gasped for breath. Floyd stopped speaking after several minutes and was motionless. Officer Alexander Kueng found no pulse when urged to check. Officer Chauvin refused to move his knee from the neck of George Floyd, until paramedics told him to. The following day, as videos of the events spread and became public, all four officers were dismissed. Two separate autopsies found Floyd's death to be a homicide. Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. His trial has been highly publicized due to the response of the country to Floyd’s death.

What impact did COVID-19 have?

COVID-19 laid bare the nation’s broader racial inequities. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. COVID-19 is affecting Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color the most. Nationwide, Black people have died at 1.4 times the rate of White people. Some 44% of African Americans say they have lost a job or have suffered household wage loss, and 73% say they lack an emergency fund to cover expenses, according to the Pew Research Center.

According to the Atlantic Council, the murder of George Floyd was the last straw and “triggered something in the planetary psychosocial algorithm. What it has underscored, among many other things, is that even as American influence has declined and the mythology associated with American exceptionalism has faded, events in the United States continue—whether by way of disappointment or inspiration—to shape the course of events around the world.” “It’s either COVID is killing us, cops are killing us or the economy is killing us,” said Priscilla Borkor, a 31-year-old social worker.” Not only were African Americans and other minority groups being systematically and economically oppressed, they were also being killed.

The Movement
Here's what people are doing about it.

“do we want convictions or do we want to live? do we want tired reforms or do we want freedom? do we want to keep putting our hope in the systems that destroy our families? communities?” - Derecka Purnell

For more than a century, activists in the United States have tried to reform the police by proposing various measures including community policing and increasing the diversity of the police force. Following the police killing of George Floyd, there have been multiple debates regarding the reformation of policing and justice systems, from whether there should be changes to policing rules, funds redirected, or even whether police forces should be abolished altogether. Much of the decision making on policing is in the purview of municipalities and states, more so than of the federal government. However, there have been efforts in Congress to introduce reforms, including most recently, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021.

Over 30 states have passed more than 140 police oversight bills since the police killing of George Floyd, increasing accountability and overhauling rules on the use of force. The state laws include measures restricting the use of force, limiting officer immunity, mandating or funding body cameras, restricting neck restraints, restricting no-warrant knocks, overhauling disciplinary systems, installing more civilian oversight and requiring transparency around misconduct cases.

Task Force on 21st Century Policing

Following the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri in 2014, President Obama organized a Task Force on 21st Century Policing (the President’s Task Force Report). The Task Force Report recommended: adopting community-oriented policing; building bias-free policing and cultures of inclusivity; implementing robust accountability systems; banning informal and formal quotas; forbidding stops, searches and arrests based on physical characteristics; placing restrictions on the use of force; reducing the types of crises police respond to; demilitarizing officers; strengthening accountability through publicly accessible electronic tracking systems for force data and publicly available use-of-force policies; requiring body cameras; adopting and implementing a “guardians of community” mindset and that the primary role of police is to protect and serve all members of the community; prioritizing the recruitment, hiring, and retention of community service-minded officers; providing ongoing training including in crisis response, de-escalation, cultural competency, and leadership; and attending to Officer health, well-being and safety. Read the full report by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, New Era of Public Safety: A Guide to Fair, Safe, and Effective Community Policing here.

What does “defund the police” really mean?
Calls to defund police departments are generally seeking spending cuts to police forces that have consumed ever larger shares of city budgets in many cities and towns. Minneapolis, for instance, is looking to cut $200 million from its $1.3 billion overall annual budget. Many activists want money now spent on overtime for the police or on buying expensive equipment for police departments to be shifted to programs related to mental health, housing and education.
See: New York Times, “What Does Defund Police Mean

What is Qualified Immunity?
“Qualified immunity balances two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” - Pearson v. Callahan, 2009

“Protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff's rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right.” (Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute)

In situations where police violated people’s rights and at times have injured or killed people through excessive uses of force, officers and departments have been shielded from legal liability because of qualified immunity.

H.R. 7085: Ending Qualified Immunity Act

Multiple lower federal court decisions have acknowledged how qualified immunity functions more as absolute immunity, and shields police officers from accountability, with even a conservative Supreme Court justice calling the doctrine into question.

Multiple petitions before the Supreme Court called into question whether qualified immunity should be limited or abolished altogether.

Rethinking Policing
Here are some of the problems.

“In response to the increase of hate crimes by both the police and private citizens, a new civil rights movement has started to emerge in New York. The movement is broad and diverse, but has marched under the slogan ‘No Justice, No Peace,’ a slogan which summarizes the frustration and anger of New York's Black and Latino communities. ‘No Justice, No Peace’ remains the solemn promise of an increasing number of people in an increasingly polarized city.”
Ron Kuby, Testimony at a hearing on racially motivated violence before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, May 11, 1988

1 in 5 Americans interacts with law enforcement yearly. Of those encounters, 1 million result in use of force. And if you’re Black, you are 2-4 times more likely to have force used than if you are White.
Center for Policing Equity

982 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year. Black Americans account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans.

Amadou Diallo. Abner Louima. Sean Bell. Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Ahmaud Arbery. Sean Reed. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. George Floyd. Duante Wright. Countless Others. These are only the newest of painful stories and images of Black people targeted, harassed, arrested, and killed by police and racist vigilantes that underlie movements for racial justice and the reformation of policing in America.

Protest matters—it can generate change. US Municipalities where #BlackLiveMatters protests have been held experienced as much as a 20 percent decrease in killings by police, resulting in an estimated 300 fewer deaths nationwide in 2014–2019.

For Black Americans, policing is "the most enduring aspect of the struggle for civil rights," because it has always been a mechanism for racial control. Young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than young white men.

A 2017 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that 91% of Americans believe that the criminal justice system has problems that need fixing--the ultimate question is how to go about doing so.

(Some) Issues Plaguing the Police System

“Police officer shootings of unarmed Black men comprise a disproportionately high number of police officer shootings.” 95 percent of people shot and killed by police are male and more than half the victims are between 20 and 40 years old.

The actual number of civilians killed by police is unknown as only 3% of our nation’s 18,000 police departments voluntarily submit this information to federal agencies (Davis & Lowery, 2015), but unarmed African American men are being killed by police at a rate of almost 5 times that of unarmed White men (Robinson, 2015).

Police are tasked with responding to a wide range of situations, including mental health crises, substance abuse occurrences, interpartner violence, mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and others.

The “warrior culture” that describes police as enforcers of the law rather than keepers of the peace promotes hesitancy toward needed reforms.

Black and Latino/a/x Americans are overrepresented in other enforcement activities, including pedestrian and vehicle stops.

A 2015 study by the Ferguson Police Department found that despite encompassing 67% of the population, African Americans accounted for 85% of traffic stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests.

A Stanford University research team analyzed data collected between 2011 and 2017 from nearly 100 million traffic stops to look for evidence of systemic racial profiling. Researchers found that black drivers were more likely to be pulled over and to have their cars searched than white drivers. They also found that the percentage of black drivers being stopped by police dropped after dark when a driver’s complexion is harder to see from outside the vehicle.

Many police departments are particularly focused on obtaining revenue for their respective localities rather than practicing effective and constitutional policing.

Increasing distrust of police systems has caused many minority communities to refrain from calling the police altogether in dangerous situations. (See: Nikole Hannah-Jones, “A Letter From Black America: Yes, we fear the police. Here’s why,” Politico Magazine, March/April 2015)

Poor policies and lack of administration regarding the use of force--especially deadly force.

Toxicity of “police culture,” in which officers envision their role as “going into a situation, immediately taking charge, and resolving it quickly.” (See: Guide to Critical Issues in Policing, Department of Justice Community Relations Service, p. 4)

Difficulty managing large-scale protests and demonstrations. (p. 10)

Surveys of police officers have found that 67% of officers believe “deaths of black people in encounters with the police were isolated incidents” rather than part of a broader pattern. Surveys show officers don’t recognized much evidence of discrimination against black people. (See: Perry Bacon Jr., “How the Police See Issues of Race and Policing,” FiveThirtyEight)


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Discussion Questions

  • How does your race inform your view of and interactions with law enforcement?

  • How has the police killing of George Floyd death sparked calls for changes in policing and justice systems?

  • What can be done to create accountability and build better relationships between law enforcement and Black, Indigenous, Latino/a/x, Asian American and other communities of color?

  • What role does stereotyping and implicit bias play in levels of trust?

  • In what ways does White privilege affect the relationship between different groups of people and law enforcement agencies?

  • What can/should be done to reduce and eliminate local law enforcement agencies procuring and using military weaponry in operations?

  • In what ways can law enforcement leaders ensure officers are educating themselves and staying current with evolving best practices to combat racism?

  • What are some of the policies and practices police departments should develop that support fairness, equity, procedural justice, legitimacy, transparency, and accountability — the values that build trust in policing, restore confidence in police, and, ultimately, heal wounds?

  • What role has the police played in creating the “school to prison pipeline” and what steps are needed to address this problem?

  • Why did the protests become a global event and not just something that occurred in the United States?

  • How and why are some individuals still trying to find information against Floyd to defend Chauvin’s case, when there is ample evidence confirming the cause of death?

  • Do you think the outcome of this trial will change or have an effect on America's approach to systemic racism?