Civil rights have taken on renewed salience since the murder of George Floyd, but the duty and principle of achieving real racial justice in America has gone unfulfilled since the first Black individuals were shackled, kidnapped and delivered to American shores against their will more than four centuries ago.
Thank you for the invitation to speak with you, and stand with you, today. While circumstances prevent me from being there in person, I have asked my trusted advisor Colleen to share a few words that I hope will convey the gravity of my feelings in this moment.
On May 25th, more than a month ago, police officers in Minneapolis responded to a call about a forged check. That call resulted in one of those officers kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, killing him brutally and senselessly.
I would like to believe that, even if George Floyd had not been killed, we would still have responded with outrage and demanded reform.
I would like to believe that his recorded cries for help, cries of “I can’t breathe” and for his departed mother would still have haunted us and awakened our moral conviction that brutal practices now commonplace in American policing must change.
I would like to believe these things.
In the past several weeks, leaders across our communities, our state, and the House of Representatives where I serve have responded with serious reforms. Mayor McCarthy signed a citywide ordinance banning knee-to-neck policing. Our state advanced serious reforms as well. And our Justice in Policing Act passed the House, banning chokeholds, no-knock warrants and raising the bar of accountability and transparency to safeguard the rights and safety of our community members.
Those measures are important, the people who fought for them and fight for them still deserve our thanks and praise.
But on Monday, July 6th, a police officer in Schenectady responded to a call about slashed tires. He confronted the person suspected of this crime in front of his own house. That call resulted in the officer chasing, tackling, and kneeling on the head of Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud, a member of our community, for at least two minutes and five seconds.
And beating him in the process.
These are not matters of opinion, they are recorded fact.
This incident and the one in Minneapolis are not the same, but they are too similar to ignore.
A member of our community was brutalized under the knee of one of our law enforcement officers.
There is no combination of factors, causes or events leading up to it that make this acceptable or inevitable.
Some people have tried to make this about other things.
To me it is simple. This incident reflects either a failure by the officer or a failure of the underlying policies that allowed it to happen.
And I have to say, this abuse is made far worse when other public servants watch this brutality and write it off as inevitable, justifiable, or commonplace.
Something has to change.
Earlier this week I expressed my outrage and heartbreak over this incident.
I called for answers and accountability. I have been met with screamed obscenities.
Let me be clear: I absolutely believe in the intentions of our police officers. And I believe they are up to the challenge of this moment.
That challenge includes seeing brutality for what it is and calling it out. It includes responding not with defensiveness or diversion but with the voice of service.
It includes working with everyone to build the reforms we need to truly prioritize public safety, community safety and, yes, officer safety.
Because we have safer communities when we have trust, when we can communicate openly, and see we share a common purpose.
This is our community, these are our streets, this is our nation to build and rebuild with each new generation.
As long as this kind of violence is allowed, whether singular incidents or under the protections of policy, it makes building trust impossible. It makes all of us less safe.
We are all hurting.
For some it has lasted four months, for others 400 years.
This COVID pandemic is attacking Black Americans faster, they are dying from it younger and at twice the rate of white Americans.
That is the face of systemic racism.
On the heels of George Floyd’s murder, a bipartisan pair of senators attempted to get an anti-lynching bill passed in the U.S. Senate. It was blocked.
That is the face of systemic racism.
In March, Breonna Taylor was murdered In her sleep, by peace officers, in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky. Her name is one of many, many, too many.
Racial violence is recorded fact, both by incident and across our systems and most venerated institutions. And the wounds it has caused have festered, and new wounds added, for a very long time.
We must find a path here that will allow us to stop these self-inflicted harms, to heal, and begin to repair a long-broken trust.
As a very small part of that effort, I spoke with Chief Clifford on Wednesday. He informed me that the Schenectady Police Department is taking steps to implement reforms and make sure this brutality cannot happen again.
We must ensure that outcome. The practice of knee-to-head must be banned. This incident must receive a full and independent review. Most importantly, the people of this community must have a voice in how our department, and our law enforcement officers, respond.
Because we are, first and foremost, your servants. Our law enforcement officers are officers of the peace. Each one of them puts on the uniform every morning intending to do what is best for this community, to uphold our laws and to keep us all safe.
So when something like this happens, no matter the outcome, it tells me something deeper must be broken.
Let’s do the hard work of looking honestly and openly at what happened here, and what keeps happening, and why.
Let’s not start from the idea that any of us are here to attack or defend. To build trust, and to heal, first we need the truth, we need sunlight, we need accountability, we need reform.
And I will continue to push for those things until I know the members of our community are safe, that their rights are protected, and that new bonds of trust can be built to achieve our common purpose of liberty and justice for all.
One piece of legislation cannot cure 400 years of racial violence, injustice and economic oppression. Much of our collective work remains unfinished. However, Congress and the President should move without delay to pass and sign into law the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. The American people are demanding immediate action. Let us heed their call at once.
I also cosponsor a number of the component bills included in this legislation. For example, H.R. 125: The Police Training and Independent Review Act would provide federal funding as an incentive for states to:
‘Everything he has done is to inflame violence.’ Those are not my words, they are the expression of the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Washington in response to President Trump’s physical assault on these peaceful demonstrators.
This horrifying attack violated the most fundamental of freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, the right to free speech and peaceful assembly.
I encourage President Trump to open the bible he held up as a prop outside the church. In it, he would find a verse from Micah 6:8; “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
May we as a nation work toward justice, denounce violence, love kindness and walk humbly, but hurriedly, on the path to creating a more perfect union.