A Year Later, Where is the Justice for George Floyd? | Opinion

The murder of George Floyd was, unfortunately, nothing new for Black and brown communities. We've seen it happen, caught on video for the world to see time and time again. The difference was the pandemic. We were all at home idle and finally able to pay attention. This was the spark in the powder keg that ignited a country's rage. Fed up with the past administration's all but endorsement of racism and an increased awareness nationwide, George Floyd's death was a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, and other racial and social justice protests that took place coast to coast over the course of the summer.

The murder of George Floyd heightened what so many of us in Black and brown communities already know: death at the hands of the police is not only possible, but in some instances, it is probable. While the new advent of the racial and social justice movements, widespread calls for defunding the police and the criminal justice reforms proposed by the Biden administration to date are an important step forward, there is still much work to be done to break the cycle of violence and mistreatment that funnels marginalized communities into the prison system and perpetuates police brutality.

Passing a bill with George Floyd's name on it addressing issues such as chokeholds, from which Floyd did not die, is indicative of the continued broad-reaching racism and deep misunderstanding that pulses through the veins of the criminal justice system, police and this very country.

When will we see legislation proposed and passed that makes it explicitly clear that police cannot violate the human and civil rights of a Black man and women? When will these laws include that police cannot continue to gun-down Black people and claim fear was the motivating factor? The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 is a fair start, but it feels like putting a Band-Aid over a bullet hole. Until we make radical changes, it is certain that we will continue to see our fathers, brothers and sons die.

Pointing out the continued dehumanization of Black lives, especially those in the prison system, our teams on the ground in states across America continued to advocate for the voiceless underscoring the very real risk of serious illness and possible death inside a system that was doing nothing to protect them. As the pandemic continues to rage and countless men and women inside the correctional system have been left to die, our organization JustLeadershipUSA introduced the #JustUs initiatitive, a campaign created to ensure that America's most vulnerable population, those in the prison system, are protected from crises—from pandemics to hurricanes and floods.

As policymakers and advocates began to take notice, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced some of our recommended policies into her Correctional Facility Disaster Preparedness Act bill, but change has remained stalled.

George Floyd
People raise their fists and hold a portrait of George Floyd during a rally following the guilty verdict the trial of Derek Chauvin on April 20, 2021, in Atlanta, Georgia. ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP via Getty Images

With the insurrection, just mere days before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the world witnessed again the discrepancy in the treatment of the Black and brown lives that we saw during the Black Lives Matter protests. People asking for justice for George Floyd were met with the National Guard, armed police and demonstrative shows of force versus the more tempered overall response to rioters attacking the Capitol. We all, still at home, watched as guards stepped aside allowing these domestic terrorists into our nation's hallowed ground. We saw that the majority of police do indeed know how to deescalate a situation, it just depends on who they are deescalating for.

The creation of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the first-ever bold, comprehensive approach to hold police accountable, end racial profiling, change the culture of law enforcement, empower our communities and build trust between law enforcement and our communities by addressing systematic racism and bias to help save lives, is a step. The Department of Justice has now also reinstated consent decrees, the most effective tool for reforming police departments that habitually violate the human rights of predominantly Black and brown people.

But this is not enough. We must completely overhaul the current institutions that perpetuate this cycle: the police and the prison system. Prison abolishment goes hand-in-hand with the demand of defunding the police after the march for justice following George Floyd's death. With the highest incarceration rate in the world, nearly 2.3 million people are in the prison system in the United States, and 40 percent of them are Black. Of those, approximately half currently in prison are in for non-violent drug offenses or inability to pay fines and debts, or they are being held pre-trial because they can't afford to pay bail, indicating our criminalization of poverty and addiction.

Once out of prison, the systemic racism and fundamental failure of our current social framework funnels them back in due to lack of access to good jobs, equal pay, fairly priced housing, or health care. This is why we at JustLeadershipUSA throughout our 2021-24 National Platform, along with other advocates, are calling for President Biden to appoint a national reentry czar. More specifically, this new czar must be someone who has been directly impacted by the criminal justice system themselves, thus bringing to the position first-hand knowledge of the very real fears, challenges and continuing oppression faced by the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated populations.

Meetings held to-date by the Biden administration with formerly incarcerated leaders have been promising and the actions they have taken are a step in the right direction, but now is the time for bold action at the federal level. We need a complete overhaul of the current criminal justice system with bold reforms, even stronger new legislation protecting Black and brown lives and a criminal justice national reentry czar to even begin to see meaningful change.

DeAnna Hoskins is president of JustLeadershipUSA.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.