Derek Chauvin has been found guilty on all counts for killing George Floyd. We had desperately hoped for this outcome and pray this marks the beginning of deep and meaningful change in our country. While we are encouraged by the verdict, we are clear it is just one step forward, not the end of our struggle. We need accountability in all encounters with law enforcement, not just in an extraordinary case where the murder was filmed, where police officers testified against a fellow officer, or after millions took to the streets in protest.
Like tens of millions of others, we watched the brutal video of George Floyd’s final moments and have struggled to comprehend how any individual, let alone one charged with upholding the law, could so callously and casually take the life of another person; how three other police officers could so callously and casually allow the direct killer to take his time and slowly, excruciatingly snuff the life out of George Floyd. At the end of the day, did this man’s life not have worth?
We do not understand what the police were thinking and we wanted to see a “guilty” verdict on all counts. Still, a “guilty” verdict, though it is deserved, is not “justice.” In our minds, a “guilty” verdict is, at best, an inadequate and imperfect punishment for an unjustifiable and indefensible killing. But it is not “justice.”
We think “justice” is more akin to a world where George Floyd, and many, many others are still alive. A world where skin color is not weaponized and where police officers view black and brown men, women, and children simply as human beings, not as threats. A world where violence is not normalized and rationalized. A world where racism and sexism do not manifest themselves over and over again in every facet of our lives. A world where unnecessary suffering and exploitation is not commonplace. A “guilty” verdict on all counts is a very important step forward but what we really hope and long for is “justice.”
As a union of healthcare workers and patients, we need to step up and show up. We have to speak out, not just stand in solidarity. Healthcare justice requires racial justice and we have tried to do our part in the fight for justice. In particular, we would like to share a couple of our current efforts, which the trial, and its associated focus on the history and legacy of racism and police brutality in America – has again brought front and center:
- Recently in Cleveland, Ohio, The Fairness Project, an organization SEIU-UHW founded and financially supports, joined with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, Black Lives Matter Cleveland, the ACLU of Ohio, NAACP Cleveland and Showing Up for Racial Justice Northeast Ohio to hold a press conference announcing the formation of a campaign called “Citizens for a Safer Cleveland.” This campaign intends to place a ballot initiative before voters in November which, if passed, will create civilian oversight bodies – with subpoena power – to review and ultimately approve or modify discipline, suspensions and terminations of police officers in that city. This is the first of what will be many campaigns to reform policing through our work with The Fairness Project.
- Next month in the state of Mississippi, The Fairness Project, along with our partners in the Mississippi Hospital Association, the Mississippi NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center, will begin collecting signatures to place Medicaid expansion before voters in November, 2022. Passing Medicaid expansion would provide healthcare coverage to about 250,000 people who now go without it in the poorest, and most heavily African American, state in the country.
- The California Legislative Black Caucus has introduced 22 separate police reform and accountability measures, including removing qualified immunity for police officers which prevents them from being held financially liable for their actions. Through our Leaders to Lawmakers program we have an opportunity to speak directly with legislators to advocate for the passage of these important bills.
- Finally, we have to equip ourselves to speak up and speak out against all forms of abuse and oppression. We will have Upstander trainings available for our members soon to work together to create a more just society and workplace for us all.
The “guilty” verdict in Minneapolis was warranted and needed, but unfortunately, it cannot be, in and of itself, “justice” for what was done to George Floyd. The struggle for justice continues every day here in California, in Cleveland and in Mississippi.
SEIU-UHW Executive Committee member
SEIU-UHW AFRAM Caucus President